The City of Gainesville held a celebration for National Immigrants Day at City Hall on Thursday morning to not only read a proclamation but also release data from a New American Economy funded report about immigration in the city.
The report documents immigrant growth in Gainesville and shows how foreign-born citizens contribute financially and through holding jobs.
City staff will use the report to inform policy and actions made by the Gainesville commission.
“What we realized more than a year ago is that we have a lot of work to do as a city to make sure that our actions match our words,” Deborah Bowie, assistant city manager, said at the event.
Gainesville received two grants to study the immigrant community and also help city staff with technical assistance and capacity building. Bowie said the information will help the city make changes to include and help immigrants―changes that range from parks to the police department.
Now that the report is finished, the real work can begin, and some changes are already underway, Bowie said.
Immigrants in Gainesville can receive a community ID that allows them to participate in ways not available before, like getting a library card and volunteering with school programs.
Jamie Kurnick, chief investigator for the Gainesville Police Department (GPD), said officers on the force have undergone training to recognize and accept these community IDs as valid. She added that GPD also uses a language line for non-English speakers who call in. The department has also translated its forms into other languages.
Kurnick said the changes were made possible because of the city’s Gainesville Immigrant Neighbor Inclusion (GINI) initiative that showed the force where it needed to change.
“With that information we can either sit idle or we can do some changes and look at how we can progress as a policing agency to build that trust and have that transparency,” Kurnick said.
City staff would like to expand the community ID program throughout Alachua County and hopes the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO) would accept the IDs too.
Another program already in the works would increase language access.
“It is a layer of challenge that many of us, unless we’re touched by it or dealing with it, don’t really think about, so out of challenge comes opportunity,” Bowie said.
The city commission is already looking to implement a program along these lines that would translate all Gainesville communications into four of the most common languages used in the community besides English.
Commissioners discussed using money from the American Rescue Plan (ARP) to fund the project. At a special meeting about the ARP funds on Oct. 19, the commission directed staff to investigate whether or not language access is an acceptable use of the funds under the Treasury Department’s guidelines.
From the report, immigrants constituted 24.4 percent of the population growth in Gainesville from 2014-2019, placing the number of immigrants in the city at around 14,800.
Of that number, 1,800 had limited proficiency with English and a little over a quarter had lived in the United States for less than five years.
Immigrants living in Gainesville paid roughly $76 million in local, state and federal taxes. They also owned 16 percent of the businesses.