AURORA | Officials cut the proverbial ribbon Wednesday on more plans to integrate immigrants into the cultural, political and economic fabric of Aurora, which is already Colorado’s most diverse city.
Mayor Mike Coffman and Ricardo Gambetta, chief of the city’s Office of International and Immigrant Affairs, rolled out another decade’s worth of goals in a virtual news conference. The new “10-year Immigrant Integration Plan” aims to build off the success of a 2015 effort jumpstarting entrepreneurship, demystifying Aurora government and expanding English-language programs.
“The ultimate goal here is to help our immigrant communities, who make up a very significant part of the City of Aurora,” Coffman said.
Officials regularly boast that about 20% of the city’s 380,000 residents weren’t born in the U.S. Those immigrants and refugees hail largely from Mexico and Central America but also Ethiopia, Vietnam, Korea and many more African and Asian countries, speaking a combined 130 languages. Recently, Aurora voters elected a Palestinian-American advocate and a Liberian-born mortgage broker to the state House of Representatives.
Refugees and immigrants are more likely than American-born residents to start their own businesses, according to data compiled by the National Immigrant Forum.
That’s a key figure in Aurora’s initiatives. In 2015, the city created the Office of International and Immigrant Affairs and launched a multi-year initiative to help newcomers not only settle in, but become active community members, small business owners and politically engaged.
Five years later, immigrants and refugees told the city that language barriers, poverty, unaffordable housing and difficulty navigating small business licensing are still factors. But Gambetta detailed an exhaustive list Wednesday of city initiatives that have already made a dent.
The city has already doled out funding for start-up businesses through the Aurora International Impact Fund, helping create 143 jobs, Gambetta said. The award-winning Natural Helpers Program headquartered at the Village Exchange Center trained about 150 people from 25 countries to become resources in their communities. That program will be expanded over the next decade and helped inspire a youth-centered spin-off, the New American Citizens Academy, where Aurora Public Schools students teach civics courses.
And officials are particularly proud of Global Fest, the annual food and culture extravaganza outside of city hall. This year, the event went virtual because of the pandemic.
In the next decade, Gambetta’s team and the network of nonprofit organizations, schools and faith-based organizations will continue the work.
A new presidential administration might also reverse a years-long decline in national refugee admissions. President Donald Trump had capped the annual number of new refugees allowed in the U.S. at 15,000 this fiscal year — the lowest cap ever, according to media reports. President-elect Joe Biden, a Democrat, has pledged to raise that cap, echoing Aurora community leaders and refugees.
City demographic data suggests Aurora will become more diverse in the next decade and home to many new Americans.
In Aurora, new refugees and immigrants might enjoy a planned phone application in many languages to help them develop business plans. The city also plans to host business development seminars, and the Impact Fund will continue doling out micro-loans. Plus, city officials are aiming to open a “Small Business Center for Newcomers.”