Champaign County immigration impact report shows need for inclusive community


Brooke Eberle

Mike Doyle, the executive director of the University YMCA, makes an opening statement at the New Americans in Champaign County community program at the I-Hotel & Conference Center on Wednesday. The program allowed community members to come together to discuss the impact of immigrants in the community.

By Brooke Eberle, Interim summer editor-in-chief

On Wednesday, the University YMCA released the Gateways for Growth Community Data Report for Champaign County. The report was put together by New American Economy, a national organization aimed at documenting the impact of immigrants on the nation’s economy.

Deborah Frank Feinan, mayor of Champaign, made an opening statement at the conference program held at the I-Hotel and Conference Center.

“The hope is to use this information to do meaningful and collaborative work in our community,” Feinan said. “Whether it be a social service agency, a governmental agency, local businesses or maybe even a school district, these numbers help up adapt our community to better serve the people who live there.”

According to the report, there were 23,992 immigrants in Champaign County, which make up 11.6 percent of the total population. 43.5 percent of the immigrant population were University students, which make the other 13,558 people more likely to be long-term residents.

29.4 percent of the non-student immigrant population is from East Asia, 15.7 percent from Europe and North/Central Asia, 14.4 percent from North America, 12.9 percent from South Asia, 11.7 percent from Southeast Asia and 15.9 percent from other regions of origin.

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In Champaign County, immigrant households earned $619 million. $119.1 million went to federal taxes and $57.2 million went to state and local taxes, leaving $442.6 million in spending power.

Following a presentation of the report, the program held a panel of local community members to discuss immigration in Champaign County and how to move forward with this new information. The panel was led by Assata Zerai, the associate chancellor for diversity at the University.

The panel also included Nancy Greenwalt, the executive director of Promise Healthcare, Koeli Goel of the Champaign Hindu Temple, Joe Omo-Osagie, a counselor at Parkland College and a board member of the Champaign County Mental Health Board, Craig Rost, the executive director of the Champaign County Economic Development Corporation, Amy Snyder, the customer service director of the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District and Joseph Wielmet, the director of the Equity & Secondary Bilingual programs of the Urbana School District.

Each of the panelists explained why inclusion is important for their organizations. Greenwalt explained how difficult it can be for immigrants to figure out how to access healthcare or insurance and are working to make information available in English, Spanish, French and Mandarin.

Snyder explained how CUMTD is looking to offer translations in their mobile ticketing app and translators in customer service. She said she strives to break down the barriers to facilitate more communication with immigrants.

“There are a lot of opportunities where we can be more welcoming as a public service, but we’re not really sure what exactly we’re missing,” Snyder said.

Omo-Osagie also explained problems he has run into with students.

“At Parkland, we have quite a few undocumented students who — at least in the last two years — have come to my office in tears more than anything because of the fear of, ‘Am I going to be able to finish this experience?'” Omo-Osagie said.

Goel also shared her own experience from when she was a student at the University of Houston. The only way to get in touch with her family back home was to mail a letter, but when she went to the post office, she could not find the slot to mail her letter in. It wasn’t until Goel came back with a friend that her friend showed her that she had to pull down the handle in order to slide in the letter.

Goel explained how people rarely think of the cultural differences when immigrating to a new country until they are faced with them.

“We need to create a knowledge. I would say that CU is one of the most welcoming communities that I have found in my career as an immigrant. We are lucky that we are part of it, we just need to make it one the best communities in the country,” Goel said.

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