• Create opportunities for immigrants to participate in civic life through developing leaders and active listening by decision-making bodies.

  • Boost naturalization and voter registration rates, and deepen involvement in democratic processes among foreign-born residents.

Background and Community Input

Throughout the community forums, more than a dozen broad thematic groupings of barriers to active civic engagement by immigrant and refugee communities were identified. Chief among these barriers in order of prevalence are: 1) Language and communication; 2) Fear; 3) Lack of information and resources; 4) Racism and lack of inclusion; 5) Limited cultural competency and cultural differences; and, 6) Family life.

A primary thread running through most of these is lack of information among many in the community coupled with a lack of education, awareness, training and technical assistance in all sectors including within government, community-based organizations, the greater population and the immigrant and refugee communities. Consequently, many of the recommended strategies are geared toward overcoming a lack of information and increasing education and awareness on the civic engagement needs and opportunities for San Diego’s immigrant and refugee communities. The policy options point to establishing the infrastructure to build and sustain the civic engagement of immigrants and refugees in San Diego.

…many of the recommended strategies are geared toward overcoming a lack of information and increasing education and awareness on the civic engagement needs and opportunities for San Diego’s immigrant and refugee communities…


15. Increase civic participation among new and aspiring Americans.

Short-Term Strategies (Year 1-3):

A. Create geographic and virtual hubs for newcomers to access information and programs, such as newcomer orientation classes, welcome packets and resource lists in multiple languages.41

B. Support the County Registrar of Voters to provide multilingual and targeted voter registration drives for immigrant and refugee communities and promote automatic voter registration and mail-in ballots, in compliance with California AB918 (Voting for All Act).

C. Partner with existing community organizations to increase voter education, outreach and mobilization for naturalized citizens.

D. Expand the City’s partnership with New American Workforce to offer more workplace-based citizenship and legal assistance.42

E. Convene regular meetings between government officials and immigrant and refugee communities and increase options for weekend and evening meetings and in neighborhoods.

F. Supplement state funding for outreach in hard-to-count communities to create awareness and encourage a full count of our region in the 2020 Census.

16. Create infrastructure to build and sustain civic engagement and increase naturalizations.

Short-Term Strategies (Year 1-3):

A. Establish a city office to oversee support and engagement with immigrants and refugees. 43

B. Bridge local nonprofits, labor unions, faith-based organizations, consulate offices and other entities to collectively increase the immigrant voice and civic participation.

C. Hold town halls with current elected officials and subsequent events for candidates that focus on immigrant and refugee concerns and local immigrant integration policies.

Long-Term Strategies (Year 3-5):

D. Dedicate and sustain public funding to promote the benefits of naturalization and New American voter education.

E. Partner with financial institutions and CBOs to provide microloans and grants toward naturalization and other immigration applications.44

17. Develop immigrant and refugee leaders.

Short-Term Strategies:

A. Foster immigrant participation in public debates and public decision-making by offering translated outreach materials, interpretation services and transportation to community hearings, neighborhood planning groups, town councils and town halls.

B. Increase recruitment of immigrant and refugee leaders to existing leadership development programs across generational groups, systems and sectors. 45

C. Create a civics academy to orient newcomers, develop New American leaders and foster network of community advocates, cross-cultural ambassadors and citizen diplomats. 46

D. Create training and fellowship program for community ambassadors on how city and county governments work in order for them to help explain the civil rights and civic responsibilities within their community, with a special focus on under-reached areas such as San Ysidro and newest refugee arrivals.47

Long-Term Strategies:

E. Remove linguistic and logistical barriers for immigrants and refugees to serve on boards and commissions in city, county and regional bodies to reflect the make-up of immigrants in the city (more than 25 percent), and to ensure that boards and commissions prioritize diversity in demographic background, experience, gender, orientation, religion, race and national origin.

F. Build pipeline of first- and second-generation New American candidates for local elected office, and train candidates on messaging, alliance building, fundraising and embracing one’s immigrant heritage.48

G. Activate diaspora engagement in their homeland’s civic affairs and develop immigrant citizen diplomats through exchanges and visits with their homeland’s diplomatic, business and civic leaders.

41 Local Examples: City Clerk’s Passport Center; San Diego Public Library’s “We Belong Welcome Stations.”
42  Local Example: New American Workforce, National Immigration Forum (
43  Best Practice: Seattle Office of Immigrant & Refugee Affairs (
44 Best Practice: Mission Asset Fund immigration loans
45 Local examples: RISE San Diego Urban Leadership Fellowship (; LEAD San Diego (; SD Leadership Alliance (
46  Best Practice: San Jose Civics Workshop Empowers Vietnamese Americans (
47 Best Practices: Nashville’s MyCity Academy (; San Francisco OCEIA Community Ambassadors Program (
48 Best Practice: Ready to Lead, New American Leaders (