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Building a Diverse Community - Indy Council Establishes Legal Protection Fund for Immigrants

Updated: Jun 2, 2021

By: Vikey Chen |

On May 10, the Indianapolis City-County Council approved to allocate $150,000 on a new legal protection fund for immigrants. Individuals who are asylum-seekers, immigrants pursuing citizenship and those at risk of deportation will all benefit from the fund.

It is believed that this fund will help our immigrant neighbors. The Immigrant Welcome Center stated, "these community members also face difficulties accessing legal services because of their language and cultural barriers. They may also have legal issues that are different than other legal service clients."

The money will enable immigrants in Indianapolis to receive legal help. More individuals in need will gain access to legal information, consultations, and representation. “The funds would come from the Office of Public Health and Safety and will be distributed by the Central Indiana Community Foundation to local nonprofits already offering these types of legal immigration services and resources,” according to IndyStar.

Immigrants Help Boost the Economy

“(When) we think about Indianapolis, immigrants here make up about 9.2% of our population share . . . and not only are they diversifying our communities, but they are improving our economies and keeping us afloat during COVID-19,” said Jackie Rodriguez, Marketing and Communications Manager with the Immigrant Welcome Center.

Based on the most recent available data from New American Economy, a national nonprofit immigration research organization, in 2018 alone, immigrants across the Indianapolis metro area paid $1.2 billion in taxes, leaving them with $3.3 billion in spending power that can reinvigorate the local economy. However, immigrants are often not eligible for government programs that provide medical and financial assistance to low-income households.

Mo Kantner, Director of State and Local Initiatives at New American Economy stated, “immigrants play a vital role in revitalizing neighborhoods and business corridors, strengthening our economic tax base, enriching the cultural fabric of our communities.”

Cultural Diversity Contributes to Greater Creativity

Along with the positive economic impact, the immigrant community also brings diverse cultural perspectives to Indiana. Diversity inspires creativity and drives innovation. It also enriches our living and working environment.

According to a quantitative research conducted by New American Economy, immigrants in the Greater Indianapolis area are 27.5% more likely to start a business than their native-born counterparts, and there are nearly 8,500 immigrant-owned businesses in the area. These entrepreneurs create products that solve problems in innovative ways. They improve services that enable new markets to be developed.

Meanwhile, immigrants who are employees make a diverse workforce. By bringing in people with different backgrounds and perspectives, it can lead to better decision-making and higher engagement in the workplace. It also makes a company easier to attract top talent with its reputation in workforce diversity.

Bilingualism Becomes an Asset in the Global Economy

The Urban Institute, a Washington D.C.-based think tank, has used data from the American Community Survey to discover insights on children of immigrants. The latest report shows that more than half (55% in 2017) of children of immigrants are bilingual. They are both proficient in English and in a language other than English. It is a much higher percentage than children with only US-born parents (5% in 2017).

Numerous studies have emphasized the benefits of bilingualism, including better problem-solving and multitasking skills. Speaking a second language strengthens cognitive abilities and improves brain functions. It also delays dementia in older adults.

In a world of increasing economic interconnections, communicating in more than one language is a critical asset in many professions. By hiring employees with foreign language skills, a company can broaden its customer base and expand internationally.

Immigrant Engagement Builds an Inclusive Community

Indiana’s growing immigrant population presents both opportunities and challenges for its local communities. Effective immigrant engagement can be an important contributor to stronger communities. Identifying challenges faced by immigrants and including them in community conversations are ways to build an inclusive community. Seeking legal assistance is one of the top needs of immigrants. Therefore, the establishment of legal protection fund directly addresses the issue.

The immigrant community is part of what makes America what it is. The story of immigrants is a valuable part of the story of America. Immigrants of various cultural and educational backgrounds come from all over the world. They and their children contribute to a more dynamic society. With more understanding of our immigrant neighbors, we will, together, build a better America.

Vikey Chen is an education columnist from Hong Kong, and now she calls the US home.

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