A new report on the experiences of Twin Cities immigrants and refugees recommends establishing advisory councils to inform policymakers, increasing cultural competency training for police and expanding social services, among other efforts.

The 22-page report, "The Journey to Belonging in the Twin Cities," comes out of a collaboration among the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce, St. Paul Area Chamber and the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. It offers a blueprint for making the Twin Cities more welcoming for immigrants and refugees, while strengthening their inclusion in the regional economy.

Edmundo Lijo, a St. Paul assistant city attorney who works on immigrant and refugee affairs for the city, said the research team worked with a wide range of community organizations that represent the interests of different immigrant groups.

"This is a very comprehensive plan," Lijo said. "It covered a lot of different areas, and it was intentionally done that way to give us a broad spectrum of recommendations."

According to the report, immigrants and refugees represent more than 15% of the employed workforce in Minneapolis and 22% in St. Paul. They also make up 13% of business owners in Minneapolis and 33% in St. Paul.

Grace Waltz, vice president of public policy for the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce, said they created the report to show how immigrants and refugees contribute to the economy and to provide strategies for how to improve their involvement.

The city officials leading the effort leaned on an advisory committee made up of 34 representatives from a variety of sectors, such as refugee resettlement agencies, legal service providers, academia, business interests and local government.

The report compiled research in 2021 on the economic contributions of immigrants and refugees in each city and identified barriers they faced. Minneapolis and St. Paul officials then conducted community engagement efforts to brainstorm ways to address barriers in such areas as education, health care, housing, safety and economic opportunities. Here's a breakdown of their recommendations:

The report identifies three pathways to better connect immigrant communities: foster a sense of belonging, improve language access and cultural competence, and ensure all residents can participate in civic, economic and social life.

One strategy that may help realize these goals is to increase funding for translation services in city, county and state offices. The report also recommends establishing immigrant and refugee advisory councils to inform policymakers in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Researchers call on the Twin Cities to combat hate crimes, improve relationships with law enforcement and strengthen emergency management plans adopted during the COVID-19 pandemic.

They recommend examining enforcement methods for hate crimes in the criminal justice system. They also urge increased funding for cultural-competency training in police departments, as well as funding to provide business opportunities for small businesses affected by the unrest that followed George Floyd's murder in 2020.

Researchers recommend that Minneapolis and St. Paul city officials welcome new immigrants in their school districts, increase affordable housing options and promote culturally competent health care.

Some ways to foster equity in those sectors include expanding social services to meet the needs of immigrants and refugees experiencing homelessness. The report also recommends providing health care workers with training on trauma-informed care.

The report encourages both cities to improve access to jobs and career advancement opportunities for high-skilled immigrants and refugees who have advanced degrees.

Researchers recommend creating financial literacy training opportunities through higher education institutions. They also suggest working with local organizations to connect high-skilled workers to job opportunities that match their skill sets.

Lijo and Michelle Rivero, director of the Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs in Minneapolis, will present the recommendations to Minneapolis and St. Paul city councils this month. The cities will then review the recommendations and identify ways to implement them. Rivero and Lijo plan to work with city officials to identify programs in place that may align with their recommendations.

Lijo added that St. Paul will conduct a comprehensive review on how to implement the recommendations over the next three to five years.

Waltz said the chamber is working on building an online resource hub where local business owners can access free technical assistance in multiple languages. She said the chamber hopes to launch the hub by summer.

Rivero and Lijo also plan to hold forums to share their findings with the community.

"These recommendations are not an end; they're actually a beginning," Lijo said.

This story comes to you from Sahan Journal, a nonprofit newsroom dedicated to covering Minnesota's immigrants and communities of color. Sign up for its free newsletter to receive stories in your inbox.