Council hears of issues for immigrants

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 21, 1999

A group of citizens met Monday nights in November to discuss immigrants and diversity in Austin.

Tuesday, December 21, 1999

A group of citizens met Monday nights in November to discuss immigrants and diversity in Austin. On Monday night, they came before the Austin City Council to present their determinations.

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The group, sponsored by the League of Women Voters, addressed the council and spoke on what they felt were the most pressing issues for immigrants in Austin. Of varying racial heritages, they had some consensus on what was important.

"For one, transitional housing is a much bigger issue than long term," Cindy Lohn said. She said workers and hopeful workers who first get to Austin have a hard time finding any place to live on a temporary basis, as they get their bearings and decide if this is the place to settle in. That problem is only compounded if they don’t speak English.

Jennifer Edwards agreed, and highlighted further troubles for immigrants.

"A lot of immigrants are having problems here," Edwards said. She suggested an ombudsman position to be an impartial listener to immigrants’ concerns.

She said housing and welfare issues are of special concern, as well as interaction with police and other officials.

"Some of the immigrants feel they are being treated unfairly," Edwards said. "They need someone to help them seek correction for these problems."

Another speaker called for full-time instruction of English as a second language at Riverland Community College, and free English instruction for everyone who wants it.

Georgette Hinkle asked that the group continue to meet, and for there to be a citywide diversity week like the one Riverland has. She also suggested a weekly diversity night to bring people of different cultures together to meet and talk.

Councilwoman Jeanne Poppe, also a member of the League of Women Voters, noted that this group had been an invitation-only group, but the league hoped to open it up.

"We will do more Community Circles," Poppe said. "This is a nucleus which will hopefully grow."

Councilwoman Gloria Nordin and Mayor Bonnie Rietz also suggested taking the information the Community Circle had found and presenting it to APEX Austin, a group of concerned citizens, divided into eight committees, working on issues like housing and child care in Austin.

"This information will be a valuable tool for APEX Austin," Rietz said.

People interested in taking part in more Community Circles are encouraged to contact Poppe.