Welcome To USA.gov is a site created by US Citizenship and Immigration services and USA.gov. This website provides a myriad of links to important information and resources from the U.S. government that someone just entering the United States might need: finding English classes in your area, finding work, dealing with healthcare and education issues, getting a social security number, ideas of how to manage money. On the home page, beneath the motto “E Pluribus Unum—Out of Many, One” and the tagline of the website, “Celebrate Citizenship, Learn About America,” a greeting on behalf of the President of the United States appears, stating:
“…We welcome you to this great nation. The United States has benefited from the contributions of immigrants since its founding more than 200 years ago, and we are certain that our newest immigrants will continue this storied legacy.”
All in all, this website seems the picture of “welcoming.” Immigrants are presented as positively fundamental to the United States of America, particularly since the country itself was founded by the descendants of those who had emigrated from across the Atlantic. But does this sense of “welcoming” on paper (or in this case, online) translate into reality at the national level? At the local level?
It is difficult to know exactly what is needed for a community to be considered “welcoming.” When the City Counsel of Astoria, Oregon, officially declared its community to be “welcoming,” it suggested that a welcoming community must be one in which “‘everyone feels valued, accepted, respected, and safe,’” and in which the city “accepts its responsibility to ‘encourage a strong, diverse community connected by its shared commitment to mutual respect, understanding, and dignity for all.’”
Historically, though, the United States has found it difficult to manifest these values as a nation, as President Obama commented during his July 1st, 2010 immigration reform speech:
“…the ink on our Constitution was barely dry when, amidst conflict, Congress passed the Alien and Sedition Acts, which placed harsh restrictions of those suspected of having foreign allegiances. A century ago, immigrants from Ireland, Italy, Poland, other European countries were routinely subjected to rank discrimination and ugly stereotypes. Chinese immigrants were held in detention and deported from Angel Island in the San Francisco Bay.”
Though we are a country created by newcomers, our uncertainty as to how to approach and incorporate immigration and immigrants clearly continues today. It is difficult to balance the fear that a stranger may cause harm if he or she enters our lives with the reality that we are all people and must reach out to each other in order to survive. Yet the commitment to making a community inclusive and “welcoming” is important for ensuring a safe, healthy, and thriving society.
What to you defines a welcoming community? What is being done here in Rice County to make a welcoming community? What more can be done? How can one turn that sense of welcome into a sense of inclusion and integration? What do you think?