Magazine article Nation's Cities Weekly

The Changing Face of America and Its Meaning for Elected Officials

Magazine article Nation's Cities Weekly

The Changing Face of America and Its Meaning for Elected Officials

Article excerpt

The following is a preview of one of the topics to be covered during Leadership Training Institute seminars at the Congress of Cities in Charlotte, N.C. "The Changing Face of America: Visionary Leaders Engaging New Populations" will be take place on December 6.

America is changing, and changing fast. Forced from their homes by war, terrorism and poverty, and seeking a better life for their children, people from other countries are flocking to America's shores. Today, one in 10 Americans--nearly 30 million people--is foreignborn.

These recent immigrants are different from those who came in the past. Prior to 1965, most immigrants came from Europe; today's immigrants are coming from Asia, Africa and Latin America. The newcomers tend to be poorer, less educated and less likely to speak English.

About 10 percent of the newcomers are refugees, fleeing persecution in their homelands. Many of these have mental health needs from having experienced war, been tortured or raped or seen family members murdered.

Unlike previous generations of immigrants, today's newcomers don't leave the past behind. They travel back and forth to their native land, sending back hard-earned money.

An estimated five million or more are illegal, exacerbating tensions within the community.

In addition, large numbers of immigrants are moving to parts of the United States that have not traditionally hosted newcomers. Today's immigrants are moving south and west, following jobs in construction, meatpacking, agriculture and tourism.

Not only have the immigrants changed, but America has changed as well. Today's immigrants are encountering an "hourglass society," one with a growing gap between the rich and the poor.

Many immigrants find they are consigned to low-paying jobs, lack affordable housing and transportation options and receive minimal health care.

Newcomers are bringing challenges and change to many of America's cities and towns. But many elected leaders recognize that while immigrants bring challenges, they also bring an infusion of energy and enthusiasm, a richness of cultural tradition and values of caring for family and friends.

In addition, they bring a strong entrepreneurial spirit; for example, there are more than 1.2 million small Hispanic-owned businesses in the United States today, and their numbers are growing twice as fast as others. These are positives that many leaders are seeking to build upon.

Across the United States, elected officials are taking the lead to help immigrants make the transition to this new culture, put down roots and become contributing members of the community. …

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