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25 Apr. 2018 | Comments (0)
Immigration has long been a political battleground, but in recent years it has taken on even more significance. Stronger rhetoric from the White House and leanings in favor of a stricter immigration policy have caused concern among immigrant populations around the country. In opposition to the federal stance, many cities have sought out programs to protect immigrants from deportation and to support their transition into American society. And companies have lent their support to these efforts, acknowledging the importance of immigration to local labor forces and vibrant communities, as well as to their corporate social responsibility missions. In Atlanta, GA, these companies include Coca-Cola, BB&T, and Georgia Power.
In 2014, Atlanta’s former Mayor Kasim Reed wanted to do something to support and celebrate the rapidly growing foreign-born population of the city. His administration launched Welcoming Atlanta, with the support of Welcoming America, a Decatur, GAbased national nonprofit organization that helps places around the country become more inclusive towards immigrants and all residents. Welcoming Atlanta began with 20 recommendations for the city to implement to foster a welcoming environment for all individuals, regardless of race, ethnicity, or place of origin. The 20 recommendations focus on community engagement, developing and harnessing talent, and public safety.
These recommendations were developed in collaboration with sub-committees of the Welcoming Atlanta Advisory Committee, comprising local business and civic leaders, including representatives from Coca-Cola, BB&T, and Georgia Power.
In a 2015 article for The Atlantic, Luis Lobo, an executive vice president of BB&T and manager for multicultural markets, said BB&T wants immigrants to feel comfortable approaching the bank for financial services. The discussions the bank has facilitated about deportation relief have "been a way for us to reduce the intimidation level... between the banking industry and these communities," he said.
Additionally, BB&T is one of many companies that has long supported children who are in the United States under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Act by offering employment opportunities, which, the bank says, brings the company an important diverse cultural and language skillset. Tulu Kaifee, BB&T’s senior vice president and mortgage multicultural manager, says: “Supporting immigrants with the skillsets and the needs of the job market grows your business, attracts diversity, and drives bilingual talent, which is important in all sorts of business situations.”
The support Coca-Cola, BB&T, and Georgia Power have given to the Welcoming Atlanta program goes beyond serving on the Advisory Committee and includes events and initiatives to raise awareness, as well as the sharing of resources and expertise to help immigrants while securing customer service benefits for the company too. Pointing to its commitment to excellent customer service, for example, Georgia Power added a menu option to its website accessible to all customers to generate a letter to show history of power service at place of residence to aid undocumented individuals seeking deferred action in demonstrating residency.
According to Marlem Rios, Georgia Power’s assistant controller, who served on the Welcoming Atlanta Advisory Committee, the decision to offer the service stemmed from the company’s position that it was important to serve customers, no matter who they are or where they are: “We’re trying to serve our customers. That’s our number-one priority. We’re trying to help and serve our community.”
Welcoming Atlanta sought to achieve its 20 recommendations by the end of Mayor Reed’s term, which expired at the end of 2017. Some of the recommendations have shifted as the project has had to change its focus to issues that have arisen due to the stricter federal stance on immigration (for example, increasing support to young people and their families affected by proposed changes to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy). However, with Reed’s favored successor, Keisha Lance-Bottoms, now sworn in as Mayor, Welcoming Atlanta and the city’s immigrant population continue to have an ally in City Hall, backed by powerful local and global companies that vehemently support immigrants.