Immigrant Office Not in Dallas Budget Plan Officials Still Back Idea, But Say It Needs Firm Proposal, Public Input

This story was originally published on September 14, 2007Immigrant leaders here thought there was a strong chance that the city of Dallas would open an office in the coming fiscal year with a mission to assist in their assimilation. But so far, an office for immigrant affairs isn't part of City Hall budget wrangling. The first reading of the budget was Wednesday and final approval is scheduled for Sept. 26. But money for the office is not in the plan. The idea for such an office, in a city where more than one out of four people are foreign-born, gathered steam during the mayoral race this spring. Mayor Tom Leppert said he still supports the idea he backed as a candidate, but he wants a firm proposal on the office's mission and metrics to measure its success. "My position hasn't changed at all," Mr. Leppert said. "I am comfortable with that [office] as long as we clearly define who it serves and what it is going to do and how we measure that." He asked City Council members Steve Salazar, Pauline Medrano and Mayor Pro Tem Elba García to research the idea. Mr. Salazar, who represents West Dallas, first broached the idea of an office of "new Americans" a year ago. He said there is still a need for the office. But Mr. Leppert and Dr. García said they are not sure a proposal would make it into current budget discussions. "I don't think it would be fair without public input," said Dr. García, a Mexican-born council member who represents a portion of Oak Cliff. "The city of Dallas is diverse and fair, and we would want to have input before we move forward." City Manager Mary Suhm said Monday is the deadline for all amendments to the proposed $2.65 billion budget. City clearinghouse Some 321,000 of the city's nearly 1.2 million people are foreign-born, according to 2006 U.S. Census Bureau data. Immigrants from Latin America make up about 84 percent of the foreign-born within the city. The Census Bureau does not ask whether someone is here illegally, but it does ask if they have been naturalized. Many immigrants have legal immigration status, though they are not naturalized U.S. citizens. Mr. Leppert also stressed that the office should serve immigrants from all regions of the world, including Africa, Asia and Europe. Mr. Salazar said the general mission of the office is to serve as a clearinghouse for immigrants, on matters as diverse as the strictness of city code enforcement and police procedures that protect all residents from crime, regardless of their immigration status. The office wouldn't do legal work for immigrants, but would give them referrals to attorneys and nonprofit centers, he said. Mr. Salazar stressed that he doesn't want the office to duplicate efforts by other groups, such as Catholic Charities or the Multi-Ethnic Education and Economic Development Center run by the Greater Dallas Asian American Chamber of Commerce. Houston, New York and Boston have such offices, all established by their mayors. Immigration - illegal and legal - remains a hot-button issue. This past summer, an effort to overhaul the nation's immigration laws unraveled. And a crackdown against illegal immigrants in cities and states continues. As of early July, state legislatures had introduced 1,400 pieces of immigration-related legislation, and 170 measures were enacted, with the majority cracking down on immigrants and the minority defending them, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The pace of such efforts is 2.5 times greater in 2007 than in 2006. A link to immigrants Roberto Chavarría, an activist in an immigrant group from the central Mexican state of Michoácan, said he is disappointed by the lengthy review of the issue. "This is real clear, like water: The city should establish a link with its immigrant community," he said. "At the end of the day, this country is made up of immigrants." "It is aggravating that something so simple is taking so many turns," he added. Gustavo Bujanda Reyes, another Mexican immigrant leader and a U.S. citizen, said: "Mr. Leppert has good sense and knows this office will help immigrants. I hope that soon the council, of all different ethnicities, will debate the idea and that, in the end, they make this office happen." The Mexican consulate hosted a community meeting on the proposed office last month. But Mexican Consul Enrique Hubbard Urrea emphasized that "this is an internal matter for the city of Dallas. We are only acting as a liaison to community groups." Octavio Rivera of Al Día contributed to this report.  Continue reading...

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