Mayor Lauren Poe speaks to progress made toward becoming a welcoming city to immigrants, six months after the initial blueprint was unveiled. The City of Gainesville is currently hiring its first-ever immigrant affairs manager. (Katie Hyson/WUFT News)

To become a welcoming city to immigrants, Gainesville agencies hire for new positions, pilot language access line

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The Gainesville Immigrant Neighbor Inclusion Initiative announced Wednesday progress made in the six months since they unveiled a blueprint for Gainesville to become a welcoming city.

Initial efforts, supported by $300,000 in pledged American Rescue Plan funds from the City, have focused mostly on language inclusion.

City websites and important documents are now being translated into five languages: Spanish, Mandarin, Haitian Creole, Portuguese and Vietnamese.

Local agencies, including the Gainesville Police Department and Alachua County Public Schools, are piloting the use of a language access line, which would provide translation services for interactions with community members.

Language Access Florida held two institutes to train local agencies on language access, with more planned for the future.

Advocates have said these steps are overdue.

The Civil Rights Act requires that agencies receiving federal funding must provide equal access to information and services. In 2019, the American Community Survey identified nearly 1,800 immigrants with limited English language proficiency living in Gainesville.

Local government agencies have also created new jobs to support the blueprint’s goals.

The City of Gainesville is hiring its first-ever immigrant affairs manager.

Alachua County Public Schools just hired a full-time translator/interpreter and is staffing a welcome center inside the Fearnside Family Services Center for families not proficient in English. Spokesperson Jackie Johnson said 85 languages are currently spoken by students in the school system.

Though most steps have been toward language inclusion, Human Rights Coalition of Alachua County program director Veronica Robleto said another key goal was also achieved.

At the unveiling six months ago, Robleto named the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office as the “missing link” to full acceptance of community IDs — accessible to community members with or without legal residency — as valid photo identification.

Robleto said Wednesday that she met with Sheriff Clovis Watson, Jr., who said the agency would begin accepting the IDs.

Robin Lewy co-leads the Gainesville Immigrant Neighbor Inclusion Initiative, which includes 200 people from a dozen local organizations. Lewy said these first steps hint at what’s possible.

“A year ago, many people said GINI was ‘ambitious’ – really something that we couldn’t achieve,” she said. “We ‘need to be patient.’

“We can see now . . . six months since the launch, that changes can be made.”

About Katie Hyson

Katie Hyson is a Report for America Corps Member at WUFT News covering racial and rural inequities in East Gainesville and north central Florida. She can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org. Click here to learn how you can support her reporting.

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