Encinitas joins effort welcoming refugees, immigrants

A divided Encinitas City Council on Feb. 24 supported an array of initiatives aimed at embracing refugees and immigrants.

That included Encinitas joining a White House effort called the Building Welcoming Communities Campaign. To integrate immigrants and refugees, the effort suggests goals such as recognizing them with special events, connecting them with resources for starting businesses and preparing those eligible for citizenship.

An Encinitas “Welcoming Communities” subcommittee drafted the recommendations. Deputy Mayor Lisa Shaffer, who is on the panel, said the subcommittee was looking to complement existing services that are provided by organizations such as Community Resource Center and San Diego County Health and Human Services.

“We wanted to make sure we were adding value and not reinventing the wheel,” Shaffer said.

Shaffer and councilmembers Tony Kranz and Catherine Blakespear voted to sign up for the White House campaign, as well as have the subcommittee return with fleshed out proposals for six additional initiatives. Those include:

• Work with the Encinitas Library to build a volunteer registry for services aiding immigrants and refugees

• Distribute written and electronic information with local service providers that could help these populations

• Send a proposal to the county Board of Supervisors that encourages cities, business and schools to identify as communities that embrace immigrants and refugees, as well as document services offered in each area

Councilman Mark Muir and Mayor Kristin Gaspar voted against the motion.

Gaspar said a local nonprofit such as the Leichtag Foundation is better suited to take the lead on the initiatives.

“I am just not convinced we’re the preferred facilitator of this process, because the bulk of the money (for these services) is coming from the county,” Gaspar said.

Muir said Encinitas is already a compassionate community, and also that the subcommittee hasn’t demonstrated why the city needs to get involved.

“I don’t think we have an issue in our community,” Muir said.

Kranz, the other subcommittee member, said it’s important the council make a statement that Encinitas is welcoming toward immigrants and refugees.

“I’m perfectly willing to acknowledge that some of this is just symbolic,” Kranz said.

He added the city could point local immigrants and refugees toward nonprofits and other resources. Along those lines, the subcommittee’s report states immigrants and refugees may not speak or write English well, so outreach is needed.

Last month, Kranz initiated an agenda item on the topic that led to the formation of the subcommittee. He said he was moved to act after listening to a presentation from the Leichtag Foundation on the plight of Syrian refugees.

Kranz also said the city has a history of welcoming immigrants.

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 returned.

Seven public speakers supported the subcommittee’s recommendations, with no one opposed.

“Thank you all for really standing with refugees that are deserving of our compassion,” said Ramla Sahid, executive director of San Diego-based Partnership for the Advancement of New Americans. Sahid also stated Encinitas is leading the way in addressing this matter.

Blakespear said she’d like to see outreach also focus on civics, including freedom of speech and gender equality.

“I think it’s really important that we help people adapt to American culture,” Blakespear said.

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