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Gainesville becomes first community in Florida to publicly launch blueprint to become a certified welcoming city to immigrants

The Gainesville Immigrant Neighbor Inclusion Initiative is a collaboration between the city and community members and organizations. (Katie Hyson/WUFT News)
The Gainesville Immigrant Neighbor Inclusion Initiative is a collaboration between the city and community members and organizations. (Katie Hyson/WUFT News)

On Tuesday, Gainesville became the first community in Florida to publicly launch a welcoming blueprint — a strategy to guide city and county leaders in making the community more inclusive of immigrants and achieving Welcoming America’s certified welcoming designation.

The blueprint is the result of a 15-month collaboration between the City of Gainesville, 60 community members, eight organizations and 182 foreign-born respondents to the Gainesville Immigrant Neighbor Inclusion Initiative survey.

The plan was unveiled at the Matheson History Museum to a room packed with city and county officials and community members. Surrounded by illustrations of the city’s history, speakers described a chapter still unfolding: an influx of immigrants.

More than 10% of people in Gainesville are foreign-born, and this number is likely to grow. Almost a quarter of the city’s total population growth between 2014 and 2019 is attributable to immigrants.

Immigrants are significant contributors to the local economy. They represent about 14% of the spending power in the county and contributed over $22 million to state and local taxes in 2019. The success of the community rests in part on the success of its immigrants.

While the blueprint’s recommendations are numerous and varied, it ends by urging the city and county commission and the school board to “swiftly act” on two next steps: implementing telephone-based language services and hiring immigrant liaisons.

The City of Gainesville is currently considering a program that could fund a position for a full-time immigrant liaison.

This month, the Gainesville Police Department produced a video in Spanish letting community members know about language access efforts the department is making. City police have also begun accepting community IDs as valid forms of identification, as have the city, county, school board and University of Florida Health.

At the blueprint unveiling, Veronica Robleto, an immigrant rights paralegal, urged Sheriff Clovis Watson Jr. to direct county law enforcement to do the same. Advocates have described official recognition by the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office as the “missing link to full acceptance of this local ID.”

Yennifer Molina, vice president of the Human Rights Coalition of Alachua County and coordinator of Madres Sin Fronteras, took the podium towards the end of the event. She uses the community ID herself. She came to the U.S. from Honduras at 17 and now advocates for equal rights and protections for immigrants.

Molina said the community feels “totally different” today than it did six years ago, when the city and the county passed resolutions to be welcoming to immigrants. 

“Six years ago,” she said to the crowded room, “I wouldn’t stand here and say my name."

Then she smiled.

“My name is Yennifer. And I live here!” 

View the blueprint here.

Below: A poem from Alachua County Poet Laureate E. Stanley Richardson concludes the blueprint.

Katie Hyson was a Report for America Corps Member at WUFT News from 2021 to 2023. She now works for KPBS in San Diego.