Last year, San Jose was named among the country’s top 10 most welcoming and inclusive cities in the New American Economy Cities Index, which examines the relationship between welcoming immigration policies and municipal economic health. As the index found, proactive welcoming plans make cities more competitive for business and economic investment.
While we take great pride in being named one of the most welcoming cities in the United States, we also recognize that this is only the beginning. We know there is substantial work to be done in our community and we are committed to ensuring that San Jose is a place where everyone feels like they belong.
To this end, the Office of Racial Equity recently launched the Welcoming San Jose Plan 2.0: Moving toward Civic, Economic, Linguistic and Social Inclusion 2021-24. The plan is the result of an extensive community engagement process which included a working group of 11 key community partners, as well 134 voices from 47 different community groups who co-designed and co-created the entire plan. The process also included several phases of community engagement and seven community input sessions with specific immigrant groups. The resulting plan establishes a guiding framework to continue to build a welcoming city in words, action, policies and programs.
Nearly 40% of the population of San Jose is foreign-born, the same percentage as the great immigrant cities of the world such as New York and London. Many more San Jose residents have immigrant relatives and family members, with approximately 60% of children having at least one immigrant parent. More than half of the immigrants in the San Jose metro area are naturalized citizens, while 21% are undocumented residents. Data shows that some of our immigrant communities and immigrant neighborhoods have been hit the hardest by the pandemic.
According to the Santa Clara County COVID-19 dashboard, throughout the pandemic, the Latina/o/x community has made up more than 50% of COVID-19 cases, even though they make up only 25% of the population. The immigrant community is a critically important part of our city and San Jose is committed to creating policies and programs to facilitate immigrant connection, engagement and community recovery in all aspects of living, working and playing in San Jose.
With recent changes in the national landscape that allow for greater forward movement for immigrant communities, building an inclusive and cohesive San Jose is work that requires a deliberate investment from all sectors. A bold local strategy and infrastructure to support immigrant inclusion is critical to a successful city for all, regardless of national origin or immigration status.
The Welcoming San Jose Plan: 2021-24 is another step toward building and implementing this local strategy, in collaboration with our many community partners. The new plan is both aspirational and actionable, received broad community support and identifies 23 key strategies across four core pillars. These four pillars include leadership and communications, access and engagement, educational and economic opportunity and safe communities.
At this pivotal juncture in our nation’s history, building an inclusive and cohesive San Jose is work that requires a deliberate investment from all sectors. In order to conduct a robust and comprehensive COVID-19 response and recovery, bold national and local strategies supporting immigrant inclusion are crucial. These strategies will effectively and efficiently fulfill the mission of the city in ways that ensure that race, ZIP code, status and origin do not impede the opportunity, success and contributions of any resident of San Jose.
Our community process has coalesced around a solid, people-centered immigrant inclusion strategy that will lead to increased city leadership and understanding in serving San Jose’s immigrant communities. This process is designed to yield greater civic access and engagement, improved educational and economic opportunities and safe communities for all residents of San Jose.
Our office has spent the last six years working with community partners across business, education, agriculture, public safety and social services to understand what immigrants need from our city, but also what our city needs from immigrants. We are continuing our welcoming and inclusion work because we see the results. We must not rest on laurels nor have any illusions regarding the challenges that remain ahead of us.
There is tremendous work to be done in San Jose, in California and across the United States. The work of forging radically inclusive and welcoming communities requires deliberate planning, focused legislation and proactive, community-driven action. If we remain committed to these goals and move forward together, then, and only then, will San Jose truly be a welcoming city for all—a city where everyone belongs.
Zulma Maciel is the director of San Jose’s Office of Racial Equity.