My View: New Americans make big contributions

My View: New Americans make big contributions
Heather Peeler. (Courtesy photo)

By Heather Peeler

This summer, ACT for Alexandria engaged residents, donors and nonprofit leaders to understand their vision for Alexandria and the ways in which ACT could play a role in achieving that vision. We heard how much Alexandrians love the diversity of our community. We learned about the enthusiasm and care that people have for our community.

At a community workshop this summer, residents told us their vision for Alexandria is one where “everyone contributes and thrives” and where “everyone feels included, safe, loved, productive and happy.” We see this aspiration for inclusiveness throughout the city on the “Everybody Is Welcome Here” yard signs that can be found in many neighborhoods.

Immigrants in particular are vital to what makes Alexandria a special place to live and work. The City of Alexandria just released “New Americans in Alexandria,” a study that examines the contributions that immigrants make in the city.

In 2016, immigrants were 28 percent of the population of Alexandria. Foreign-born residents are nearly a third of the city’s labor force, including 21 percent of STEM workers. Immigrant households earned $1.4B in 2016 in Alexandria. Twenty-six percent of household income went to federal, state and local taxes ($262.4M to federal and $102.2M to state and local). Immigrants are more likely to be entrepreneurs. The study shows that our community is strongest when everyone contributes.

The report was compiled by New American Economy in partnership with the city’s Workforce Development Center and the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership. In 2017, Alexandria was one of 25 communities recognized for the strong commitment from local government, business and community partners to maximize the contributions of immigrants.

Despite the contributions of immigrants, many do not have the same opportunities as U.S.-born residents. Only 40 percent of immigrants in Alexandria have a bachelor’s degree, compared to 72.8 percent of U.S.-born residents, and only 21 percent own homes, compared to 47.7 percent of U.S.-born residents.

Policies and rhetoric that seek to exclude and divide are taking a toll on our community, especially the 36.6 percent of immigrants that are undocumented. Alexandria nonprofits that provide basic services such as food, health care and educational programs are seeing declines in the number of immigrants that participate in their programs. The threat of deportation is affecting the mental health of parents and children. Fear and distrust are commonplace, preventing many from fully participating in our community.

Now is the time to demonstrate our community values of inclusion, empathy and respect by supporting those organizations that support all our neighbors, and in particular immigrants. Over the past few months, the Alexandria Council of Human Service Organizations has assisted organizations in exploring ways to collaborate and strengthen their support of immigrants. To support these organizations and help ensure that everyone is welcome here, consider donating your time, talent and/or treasure. You can review a list of ACHSO members at: https:// default.aspx?id=60872

You can review “New Americans in Alexandria” study at

The writer is the president and CEO of ACT for Alexandria.