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Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition Earns National Award for Exceptional Immigrant Integration Initiatives

Press Release
Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition Earns National Award for Exceptional Immigrant Integration Initiatives

WASHINGTON – The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) on Wednesday announced the four winners of its inaugural E Pluribus Unum national awards for exceptional immigrant integration initiatives, with an innovative Tennessee-based public education and communications campaign receiving a $50,000 prize.

The E Pluribus Unum Prizes program, established by MPI’s National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy with generous support from the J.M. Kaplan Fund, seeks to inspire others to take on this important work and encourage the adoption of effective integration practices.

The Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition and the three other E Pluribus Unum Prize winners will be honored tonight at an awards ceremony in Washington, D.C., at the Library of Congress featuring remarks by Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and other national policymakers. The winners were selected from more than 500 applications received from around the nation.

Against a backdrop of changing demographics common to Tennessee and other “new destination” states (with a more than 300 percent growth in its immigrant population over 15 years), the organization launched its Welcoming Tennessee Initiative (WTI) in 2006, to foster constructive public dialogue on immigration within the state. WTI was designed to increase public understanding of the realities of immigration, situating the recent demographic changes in a broader historical context and trying to constructively engage the public in areas where they have concerns.

“The Welcoming Tennessee Initiative stands out as a positive, creative way to have a constructive, mutually enriching dialogue between the native-born members of the state and its newest members – with the goal of creating stronger, more vibrant communities for everyone,” said MPI Senior Vice President Michael Fix, co-director of the National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy. “And it is serving as a model for community leaders in other new destination states.”

Said TIRRC’s Executive Director Stephen Fotopulos: “The impact of the Welcoming Tennessee Initiative is clear: Members of communities receiving immigrants are more likely to respond to the challenges of immigration with empathy rather than distrust or fear, decision-makers are given the political room to pursue proactive policies, and immigrants feel welcomed and encouraged to participate and contribute.”

The Welcoming Tennessee Initiative creates opportunities for Tennessee residents, native-born and immigrant alike, to discuss the effects of immigration, its historical and national contexts, and how to develop strategies for strong, inclusive communities. The Initiative features:

  • Welcoming committees in Nashville and Shelbyville (a small community that has experienced a large influx of Latino immigrants and Somali refugees) to facilitate conversations about immigration;
  • More than 70 “ambassadors” around the state who are recruited and trained to organize welcoming committees and facilitate discussions;
  • Public education campaigns that include billboard ads;
  • Community forums and presentations at churches, universities, civic clubs and other sites.

The Tennessee initiative has inspired similar efforts in 13 other states.

The Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition and the three other winners, each given a $50,000 award, are reflective of the diversity of government and non-government organizations involved in immigrant integration efforts at the state and local levels.

“There is a pressing need to bolster immigrant integration efforts at the national, state and local levels,” said Margie McHugh, co-director of MPI’s National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy. “Too often our national immigration debate proceeds without addressing immigrant integration issues. Yet, the thousands of groups and individuals engaged in immigrant integration initiatives across the country are ultimately playing the most important role in ensuring that our immigration policies are a success.”

The other E Pluribus Unum national award winners are:  AVANCE- El Paso (El Paso, TX); Littleton Immigrant Integration Initiative (Littleton, CO); and Internationals Network for Public Schools (New York, NY).

Additional information about the winners can be found at www.integrationawards.org. For more information or to set up interviews, please contact Michelle Mittelstadt at 202-266-1910 or at [email protected].

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The Migration Policy Institute is an independent, non-partisan think tank in Washington, D.C. dedicated to analysis of the movement of people worldwide.