Encinitas wants to join campaign welcoming refugees and immigrants

Encinitas will explore joining a White House initiative that calls for cities to help refugees and immigrants feel welcome, a move that an Encinitas councilman proposed in response to national debate over refugees.

The Encinitas City Council on Dec. 16 unanimously voted to set up a subcommittee of Encinitas councilmembers, social service organizations and residents to see how the city can participate in the national Building Welcoming Communities Campaign.

It proposes ways that cities can integrate refugees and immigrants. This may include recognizing them through events, offering them the tools to start small businesses and preparing those eligible for citizenship.

Councilman Tony Kranz said he initiated the agenda item to reaffirm the city’s welcoming nature toward immigrants and refugees given “some of the rhetoric that we’re hearing in political circles.”

“I think that everybody knows that Encinitas has always been welcoming,” Kranz said. He noted that when local Japanese farmers were held in internment camps during World War II, Encinitas poinsettia pioneer Paul Ecke Sr. stored their property until they could reclaim it.

Kranz suggested that the council initially sign on for the first tier of the Building Welcoming Communities Campaign, which includes possible goals such as celebrating immigrants and refugees with special events. The two subsequent tiers have objectives that are more involved, such as providing immigrants and refugees more pathways to secondary education.

Mayor Kristin Gaspar said she’d like to see what the subcommittee comes up with first before agreeing to be a part of the initiative. The rest of the council agreed to have the subcommittee report back with recommendations sometime next year for council consideration.

“To say, ‘oh, we’re a welcoming community’ doesn’t really mean that much,” Gaspar said. “You have to have some substance behind it and I’d like to know what that is.”

Earlier in the meeting, Kranz said he was moved to act after listening to a presentation from the Leichtag Foundation on the plight of Syrian refugees.

The Leichtag Foundation, an Encinitas nonprofit, issued a statement last month saying it’s advancing initiatives that advocate for, support and strengthen the resettlement of Syrian refugees.

Debates over whether to accept refugees fleeing Syria intensified following the recent San Bernardino and Paris attacks.

Kranz and Deputy Mayor Lisa Shaffer will serve on the subcommittee, and the Leichtag Foundation was floated as a possible addition. The subcommittee will also look at grants available through the Building Welcoming Communities Campaign.

The council vote was 4-0. Councilman Mark Muir was absent from the meeting.

Today, 41.3 million foreign-born residents live in the United States, including 3 million refugees, according to the campaign. Over the next 20 years, immigrants and their children will account for 85 percent of the net growth in the U.S. labor force.

The agenda item, heard at the end of the six-hour council meeting, didn’t draw any public speakers.

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