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NYC offers other cities immigrant outreach ideas

Deepti Hajela, Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) -- New York City is hoping its long history as a hub for immigrants and efforts to support immigrant communities can be useful to other cities around the country.

It is bringing together representatives from more than 20 cities on Thursday to discuss strategies for issues like making sure immigrants are getting access to government services and how to encourage civic engagement.

As part of the conference, the Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs is releasing a series of blueprints that highlight policies and programs New York City has undertaken in areas like economic development, language access and policing in hopes they will offer useful strategies other cities can use for their own purposes. Other blueprints look at civic engagement and citizenship.

"Nobody should have to recreate the wheel," said Fatima Shama, commissioner of the office.

"New York has been a continuous gateway" for immigrants, she added. "For cities that are becoming new gateways, we want to help them."

Among examples of New York City's strategies are the executive orders Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed in 2003 that keep city employees from inquiring about a person's immigration status unless required. Another is the 2008 executive order requiring city agencies to implement language access for New Yorkers with limited English proficiency.

"We want to make sure all that we've been able to accomplish is not lost when our administration ends," Shama said, referring to Bloomberg's final term coming to a close this year.

In the coming weeks, the office plans to release additional blueprints on financial services, education, health service delivery and anti-domestic violence.

Some of the cities expected to be represented at the meeting include Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, Fort Wayne, Ind., New Orleans and Phoenix.

Shama said other cities have frequently expressed interest in learning from New York City's efforts.

Its diversity makes it a good example for others, said Mayor Kasim Reed of Atlanta, one of the participants. Noting that Atlanta's immigrant population is growing, he said, "I want to be in front of the issue rather than responding to it."

He thought learning about New York's strategies could help.

So did Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry, whose city is home to a sizeable Burmese population.

"What are they doing that perhaps I can take back to my community and make my community better," he said.