Maryland: Governor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs
In October 2021, Maryland established the Governor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, joining a handful of states that promote immigrant integration efforts statewide. Housed within the Governor’s Office of Community Initiatives, the Office of Immigrant Affairs aims to enhance English language programs, strengthen access to career options through skills training and employment referrals and promote naturalization. Moreover, the office focuses its efforts on collaborating, communicating and connecting with stakeholders across the state, such as bringing together various programs and resources to create a network that offers newcomers easier access to services.
In addition to the traditional services often offered to the immigrant community, the Office of Immigrant Affairs is currently working on developing a statewide network of neighborhood-based opportunity centers. The centers will connect participating nonprofits and other community-based organizations to each other and directly to the Office of Immigrant Affairs to collaborate and better serve immigrant communities and neighborhoods. “As one of the Governor’s offices, we have the capacity to deliver people’s voices to high levels and make policy recommendations to the legislature and to the Governor,” said Maureen Regan, director of communications for the Governor’s Coordinating Offices.
One of the Office of Immigrant Affairs’ newest initiatives, under the direction of Governor Larry Hogan, includes joining forces with 211 Maryland, a statewide 24/7 health and human services hotline, to expand access to services and supports by providing easier-to-use multilingual services to connect community members and non-English speakers to resources they look for.
Callers are connected to a specialist, trained in cultural competency by the Office of Immigrant Affairs, who works with a translator to connect to specific resources within the caller’s vicinity. “After great coordination with 211 we are excited to bring this to fruition,” said Regan. Under the theme of “Stop Hate,” 211 Maryland also now serves as an alternative channel for community members to report hate crimes or incidents in their native language. “Promoting the well-being, stable settlement and socio-economic prosperity of immigrants and new Americans benefits everyone, both now and for future generations,” said Regan.
The Office of Immigrant Affairs is constantly looking to learn what more can be done to support newcomers, local organizations, and the overall integration process. The office serves as a liaison and supports city, county, and local nonprofits that serve new Marylanders. This includes working with a network of commissioners who are appointed by the Governor. The commissions, also housed under the Governor’s Office of Community Initiatives, represent diverse communities from across the state — including religious and faith-based organizations — and each are devoted to service. Commission leaders, members, and volunteers represent African, African American, Middle Eastern, Hispanic, Asian Pacific American, South Asian American and Native American communities.
Since the end of last year, the Office of Immigrant Affairs has collaborated with the various ethnic commissioners to assist Afghan families arriving to Maryland. Through their own organizations — or as individuals — commissioners have offered job opportunities, health clinics, legal consultation, transportation and language services, digital device donations, food assistance, and more. “It’s a great example to show how settled immigrants become community leaders and give back by helping new immigrants. We see how magnificent civic power is in Maryland to support those who are in need — it’s truly inspiring,” said Regan.
While the Office of Immigrant Affairs focuses on state efforts, it is also engaging with other national organizations since joining the Office of New Americans Network, a national group of public offices that serve newcomers. Within this network, partners share relevant updates such as new initiatives, grant opportunities, and changes to policy and regulations. “In a major way, our effort lies in overcoming bureaucratic barriers and in being able to serve immigrant communities with cultural competence. We consider these aspects of our work to be most significant," said Regan.
For jurisdictions that are still thinking about how to create an office similar to the Maryland Office of Immigrant Affairs, the office advises that building connections, networks, or ad-hoc groups to enable continuous communication among those who are responsible for serving the same target audience and carrying out the same mission is essential. Partnerships and communication have been fundamental for the Office of Immigrant Affairs to fulfill its priorities and goals. “Getting the word out — and in our case, about how our office can help — is fundamental so everyone can learn and know about all the great work happening and what resources are available,” said Regan. “We also learn from others; listening to the people is critical. You may not find solutions right away but listening to those you serve is a big part.”
For more information about Maryland’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, including information about their partnership with 211 Maryland, visit goci.maryland.gov/immigrant.
CLINIC applauds the Maryland Governor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs for their efforts to promote immigrant integration statewide!
Share with us your organization’s integration efforts for a chance to be featured in our monthly newsletter!