Let’s remember immigrants when talking about diversity
by Ben Goebel
The United States is having a reckoning about its diversity, inclusion, and equity (DEI) whether in society or in the professional world. This is fantastic and a long time coming. Many populations have been treated unfairly for generations in this country and it is important to see things moving in the right direction. Immigrants are one of the marginalized groups that should benefit from this new reckoning, and we need to make sure they are not forgotten.
We have to say that as immigrants, we must stand in solidarity with the efforts to improve the situation of the Black communities in this country. And this should be a priority. But we can’t ignore the plea of immigrants and their specific needs and barriers. I have been joining dozens of events, workshops and meetings which discuss DEI and too often, they focus on race and ethnicity but there is not a place given to immigrants. In Philadelphia, immigrants represent 15% of the population and 20% of the workforce. How can we accept that our case is being overlooked? Yes, the plea of immigrants intersects with the needs of many other populations and it is true that many can be included in the plea of other marginalized populations.
Regardless of race, gender, sex or origin, immigrants go through barriers that are specific to them. It’s not only language though. Many cultural aspects of the U.S. is foreign to a lot of immigrants.
Is anyone expecting women who happen to be Asian to have to choose between being Asian or being a woman? Or do we agree that women and Asians have specific issues and needs related to their identities when it comes to DEI? The same is true for immigrants. Regardless of race, gender, sex or origin, immigrants go through barriers that are specific to them. It’s not only language though. Many cultural aspects of the U.S. is foreign to a lot of immigrants. Starting with this idea of society separated by racial groups. Many immigrants I know do not understand why they have to specify their race every time they fill a document. Many do not see themselves represented in those racial separations. Take the case of North Africans. They technically should check the Black/African American box as they are Africans. But we all know this box is for people who identify themselves as Black or African American. The other option for them is White, which many do not identify with. If our society and companies really want to be inclusive, how hard would it be to add an ethnicity dedicated to them, such as Arabic or North African? Or consult them in determining in which way they would rather identify? In the U.S., Asian is a race you can check, but technically this is not more than a geographical acknowledgment. We all know that an Indian, a Japanese and an Indonesian are of a different racial background, and so grouping them under the same “race” is not based on an accurate vision of the world. Another example, nowadays, many talk about “Black and brown”, which technically includes people who identify as Black/African American and Latinos. But I know Latinos who do not identify in these categories. One of them expressed to me that she did not apply to a grant she was eligible for because she was not aware it included her.
Efforts to bring inclusivity/inclusion should not be exclusive. And in the end, immigrants in general – regardless of race or country of origin – are marginalized. Why not include immigrants in any efforts of diversification? There should be a box asking if someone is an immigrant in our surveys. 15% of the city is an important number and we can improve our efforts to represent the interests of immigrants.
Immigrants are not asking for special treatment here, only for an understanding that the onboarding might be adapted to such populations.
Moreover, immigrants also represent more than 20% of the workforce of Philadelphia. This is why, when it comes to employment, we need to be aware that it is difficult for immigrants to go through the recruiting process and to adapt to the workplace in this country. Immigrants are not asking for special treatment here, only for an understanding that the onboarding might be adapted to such populations. Or that immigrants are not just thought of as the low paid workforce. 40% of Pennsylvania immigrants have a Bachelor’s Degree or higher. This is why The Welcoming Center created an Engaging Immigrant Talent Toolkit, to raise this awareness and help companies understand the immigrant population and how to successfully integrate them into the workplace.
Other efforts companies could do is support Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) dedicated to immigrants. These groups exist to support career and personal development in the workplace. Many marginalized peoples are encouraged by their employers to participate in ERGs. There are ERGs which exist for many different reasons, I believe that companies and their immigrant employees would benefit from having an ERG for immigrants the same way there are ERGs for Asian Americans, Black Americans, Women, and LGBTQ+ people. And to help immigrants at the State level in a similar way, I believe the State would benefit from having an office of Immigrant Affairs or at least a commission specifically dedicated to immigrants.
Immigrants are not here to expect to have it easy. Immigrants expect it to be difficult in many ways. But for many aspects of immigration, it does not have to be. And this is up to us in the system – service providers, companies and Americans in general – to work on changing this.
I recently spoke to someone who mentioned something that all immigrants know but that it’s great to remind people. Immigrants are not here to wait for a handout. Immigrants are not here to expect to have it easy. Immigrants expect it to be difficult in many ways. But for many aspects of immigration, it does not have to be. And this is up to us in the system – service providers, companies and Americans in general – to work on changing this. It just has to be fair. For that, immigrants must be at the table. It does not mean we’re taking the spot of someone else. No one says you cannot extend the table. And it has to be extended. Let’s make sure we open the door to immigrants and not forget them or their interests when we talk about DEI.