EDITORIAL: A welcoming community

York Dispatch
  • People who were born in 42 foreign countries now live in York City.
  • Refugees from the Congo are in the process of being relocated to York County.
  • York has a higher percentage of residents born outside the U.S. than do other cities in the state.

York City has a lot of immigrants.

Altogether, more than 3,000 people living in the city were born outside the U.S., according to city-data.com. They came from all around the world — Mexico, El Salvador, Dominican Republic, Ethiopia, Nepal, Greece, Germany, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, Guyana, Britain — 42 countries in all.

The city has a higher percentage of residents born outside the United States than do other cities in Pennsylvania — 6.9 percent in York, 6.2 percent in the rest of the state.

Sorelis Rodriguez, 3, front, and Frailin Leonardo, 7, both of York City, wait for York City Mayor Kim Bracey before a ribbon-cutting ceremony welcoming CASA, an immigrant services organization, into their new location at York City Hall on Tuesday, March 22, 2016. Dawn J. Sagert photo

And the city is doing what it can to make those immigrants feel like part of the community. It recently made space at city hall for CASA, an organization that provides English-language and financial literacy classes, immigration services and voter registration for immigrants who speak Spanish. Events throughout the city celebrate immigrants, from heritage festivals at churches to the annual St. Patrick's Day Parade.

The work has gained national notice, with the White House naming York City as a Welcoming Community last month along with 50 other communities across the country, including Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Baltimore.

York was even called out in the White House report as a Bright Spot in the Building Welcoming Communities network for its work with CASA and with the YMCA to celebrate immigrants and build cross-cultural understanding.

York City cited as 'welcoming community'

Residents outside the city are welcoming the first of several families relocating as refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Eliza Abeca fled that country at the age of 4 in 1996 with her family, and the members of the Bembe people had been living in a refugee camp in Tanzania ever since. Abeca and her daughter, Mlasi, 2, recently arrived in York County and have been staying with local families with the support of Church World Services.

Six more members of Abeca's extended family will be coming to York County by September, CWS organizers said. About 15 families around York County will be working closely with them to help them settle into the community and learn what they need to know to live independently here.

The organizers also pointed out that spending 17-20 years in an unsettled state while waiting to be settled as a refugee in this country is normal.

Congolese refugees settle in York area

York as a community is doing its best to reach out to its newest residents and earn that Welcoming Community name.

At the same time, Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., introduced a bill that would have cut federal funds to "sanctuary cities," such as Philadelphia, where local law enforcement is instructed not to call Immigration and Customs Enforcement when an immigrant prisoner is being released.

That bill, which was opposed by the ACLU and Pennsylvania's Democratic Sen. Bob Casey Jr., did not pass a procedural vote in the Senate. But the fact that it was introduced at all says a lot about the feelings of many Americans about immigrants today.

The vast majority of immigrants come to this country, settle in and want to be a part of the community. They get jobs, start businesses, have families, make friends, obey laws, pay taxes and generally contribute in positive ways.

Hispanic services organization moves into York City Hall

And remember, nearly every family in America started with immigrants coming to a new country, learning how to be part of a community and settling in. That's something we all need to be reminded of occasionally.