A public hearing in Portland this week was an important first step toward giving the city’s immigrant community the tools it needs to thrive.

The idea of an Office of New Americans is still taking shape, but comments Tuesday made a strong case for a one-stop shop where newcomers to the country can get the help they need navigating the services offered by various levels of government and nonprofit agencies.

This is the kind of coordination that is sorely lacking. As many as 10,000 of Portland’s 66,000 residents are foreign-born, and they account for all of the net growth in the city’s population.

But there is evidence that the adjustment to a new country has its pitfalls. Immigrants have a poverty rate four times that of the native-born population and when employed earn half of what their native-born neighbors do.

A growing immigrant community is a valuable asset for the city. A shortage of workers is stunting Portland’s economic growth. Properly established, immigrants and their families can be the backbone of a thriving and diverse place to live. Neglected, they could become a burden on other residents.

Not everyone supported the idea of a New Americans office at Tuesday’s hearing, with some concerned that it would provide services to immigrants that are not available to other groups. But the same could be said about many targeted city services.


Portland has a coordinator of elder affairs, island relations and bicycle and pedestrian programs. That does not mean that young people, mainland residents or motor vehicle operators aren’t important. It just means that some specific needs require focused attention.

The question should not be whether immigrants are getting more than native-born residents, but whether the immigrants have needs that are different from those found in other parts of the community. When it comes to acquiring language skills, that’s the case, and it affects every aspect of assimilation in a new country. An office that speeds up that process is in everybody’s best interest, native-born and immigrant.

Native-born Portland residents have no interest in seeing these new neighbors struggle. If there were no immigrant families, Portland would be talking about shutting down elementary schools, not rebuilding them. The city would be shrinking every year, leaving fewer people left to carry the load. And without immigration, Portland would not be the interesting and exciting city that is attracting native-born migrants, who also contribute to the culture and economy.

Just because an Office of New Americans would not directly serve every city resident is no reason not to have one. If there are other groups that need attention, then city government should provide it.

But it’s clear that the immigrant community has specific needs, and giving it a point of contact to help address those needs is a very good idea.

Today’s newcomers are tomorrow’s natives, and we all should be ready to help them establish solid roots.

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