Austin immigrant commission to explore improved civic, economic opportunities for foreign-born residents

Creating a new office for immigrant affairs is one of several recommendations included in a University of Texas study on immigrant incorporation in Austin. (Christopher Neely/Community impact Newspaper)
Creating a new office for immigrant affairs is one of several recommendations included in a University of Texas study on immigrant incorporation in Austin. (Christopher Neely/Community impact Newspaper)

Creating a new office for immigrant affairs is one of several recommendations included in a University of Texas study on immigrant incorporation in Austin. (Christopher Neely/Community impact Newspaper)

A recent report out of the University of Texas shed light on the city's progress toward becoming more welcoming to immigrants, and it could prompt the exploration of a new office for immigrant affairs and expanding other city resources.

The July report from UT's LBJ School of Public Affairs outlined how Austin has recently fared in its City Council-backed goal of becoming more open and accessible to foreign-born residents. The study was led by UT professor Ruth Ellen Wasem, who shared her findings with Austin's Commission on Immigrant Affairs Oct. 4.

Wasem's research narrowed to the mixed results tracked in Austin in the areas of leadership and governance, civic engagement, economic prosperity, livability, and community resilience. The study was based on past U.S. Census Bureau demographics and metrics pulled from the New American Economy Cities Index tracking immigrant integration nationwide.

Austin has seen its NAE index score move up in recent years, which Wasem pointed to as a sign of progress, although it still remains in the middle of the pack compared with the 100 largest U.S. cities and peer cities of similar sizes and demographics. Austin also enjoys higher scores related to policy and government than its rankings for socioeconomic factors: job opportunity, civic participation and a "concerningly low" livability mark, Wasem said.

“For a city that prides itself as Austin does, this is something where we should be doing better," she said.

Wasem also pointed to Austin's status as a "national gateway" for immigration as a civic and social benefit that could be improved for better outcomes citywide. While her report is geared toward immigrants, she said recommendations to cement affordable housing options, increase wages and make city resources available in multiple languages are steps that are not exclusive to the nearly one-fifth of Austinites born abroad.

"I see most of the things you do to incorporate immigrants as things that are good for everybody," she said. "It's less about having narrow-sliced programs to deal with vulnerable populations. ... It’s thinking about, 'What are the things we’re doing for everybody?' And making sure that immigrants are part of all these programs and that they’re accessible to everybody."

Other recommendations in the UT report cover naturalization, entrepreneurial resources and immigrant involvement in city life. Overall however, Wasem said a top priority tied to improving the local immigrant experience could be the creation of a dedicated government office for new foreign-born residents. While Austin hired its first immigrant affairs staffer last March, her work is contained within the city Equity Office and has less influence than that of full-scale immigrant offices in many peer cities, Wasem said. She also cited Dallas, Houston, Denver, Charlotte and Atlanta as examples of comparable cities that have successfully opened immigrant affairs offices—most of which have higher overall NAE scores.

“You really need an administrative home to coordinate and oversee these efforts. An elevated, administrative home," she said.

The immigrant affairs commission is now considering how working groups based around the UT report's five main areas of focus could tie to city policy. The small teams' subject-specific work could gather input from the community on immigrants' participation in local government, workforce development and pay disparities, housing and the expansion of neighborhood hubs.

Commission Chair Krystal Gomez said the working group process could inform future recommendations for city officials, including funding asks during next year's budget discussions. In a September memo, Chief Equity Officer Brion Oaks also said his office and its immigrant affairs coordinator will work with the commission to craft budget recommendations based on the results of the report.
By Ben Thompson

Austin City Hall Reporter

Ben joined Community Impact Newspaper in January 2019 after graduating with a degree in journalism from Northeastern University in Boston. After spending more than two years covering in The Woodlands area, he moved to Austin in 2021 to cover City Hall and other news throughout the city.


Photo of Austin Community College pharmacy students preparing vaccines
Austin Public Health ramps up COVID-19 booster shot offerings, prepares for pediatric vaccines

High-risk individuals who received Pfizer are Moderna doses six months ago or more are now eligible for boosters—as are most recipients of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

The first-ever Williamson County Fair and Rodeo opens its gates to guests Oct. 21 with live music, carnival rides, food vendors, rodeo events and more. (Courtesy Pexels)
CI NATION ROUNDUP: Inaugural Williamson County Fair and Rodeo underway; delivery drones coming to Friso and more top news

Take a look at the top five trending stories across all of Community Impact Newspaper’s coverage areas as of Oct. 22.

Rendering of the UT Leona Child Development Center
UT Austin set to open new Child Development Center east of I-35

A new university child care facility is headed to 2216 Leona St.

Homeless Strategy Officer Dianna Grey briefed City Council on Austin's spending of more than $100 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding on homelessness Oct. 21. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)
Officials share outlook of 3-year plan to house 3,000 homeless people in Austin

Although the path to build more than 1,000 new spaces for those without shelter will take time, officials believe the goals are achievable.

Photo off APD sign
Austin police cadet academy review notes positive strides but says instructors lack buy-in to 'reimagined' concept

Reforms at the Austin Police Department academy are mixed so far, while the department and outside evaluators agree on several potential improvements going forward.

Franklin Barbecue in East Austin closed its dining room in March 2020. (Courtesy Franklin Barbecue)
Franklin Barbecue to reopen dining room on 11th Street in Austin

The dining room will reopen just before Thanksgiving.

Cumby Group is planning development for three adjacent multifamily projects on Manor Road in East Austin, including The Emma apartments. (Courtesy Cumby Group)
3 years in, Austin is falling behind on goals in affordable housing plan

From 2018-20, the city only reached 12% of its 10-year goal to build thousands of new homes and rental units.

Taco Palenque is now open as drive-thru only in Round Rock. (Brooke Sjoberg/Community Impact Newspaper)
CI NATION ROUNDUP: Taco Palenque opens in Round Rock; Plano ISD considering two draft calendars for 2022-23 school year and more top news

Take a look at the top five trending stories across all of Community Impact Newspaper’s coverage areas as of Oct. 21.

The Austin Transit Partnership is exploring above- and below-ground options for a transit center at the East Riverside Drive and South Pleasant Valley intersection. (Courtesy Austin Transit Partnership)
Project Connect plans to explore above-, below-ground options for East Riverside/Pleasant Valley Transit Center

After hosting a community design workshop, the group overseeing Project Connect designs is moving forward with options for both an underground and above-ground station at the intersection.

A calculator created by the Rocky Mountain Institute looks at the environmental impact of TxDOT's proposed designs for I-35 in Central Austin, one of the most congested roadways in the country. (Benton Graham/Community Impact Newspaper)
Nonprofit's tool says TxDOT I-35 expansion proposals would have profound environmental consequences

The tool says that the proposal would create between 255 and 382 million additional vehicle miles traveled per year.

Photo of the Travis County administration building and sign
Travis County hears update on process to reassess master plan for aging correctional facilities

The process comes after county commissioners opted to pause all activities of the master plan over the summer.

Photo of a row of houses, with one under construction
Central Austin home prices decline for second month but still tower over previous year

Homes prices in the Central Austin area are up 15.5% from September 2020.