History & Accomplishments

History

Vibrant immigrant communities are crucial to the state’s economic well-being and cultural diversity. However, increased scrutiny and dehumanizing treatment of the Rhode Island immigrant population has resulted in confusion and fear, leaving communities across the state increasingly divided. Especially at these difficult economic times, Rhode Island immigrants have become one of the targets to blame for the State’s economic woes.

In many local Rhode Island communities, especially newer immigrant destinations, the messages heard about immigrants are in large part negative and ill informed. Numerous examples of incorrect and hateful comments and actions have come from Rhode Island mainstream media in recent years. Mistrust and ill will continue to be major barriers in promoting mutual respect and cooperation between foreign born and U.S. born Americans in Rhode Island. In 2010, 26 hate crimes were documented in RI, including actions ranging from vandalism to aggravated assault that were anti-Black, anti-Hispanic and anti-Islamic/Muslim.

Welcoming Rhode Island offers our nation a shining example of how building communities that welcome all who live there speaks to our deepest values as Americans, and to our greatest aspirations for prosperity and economic growth. We applaud the spirit of unity through which Welcoming Rhode Island is bringing together newcomers and long-time residents from across Rhode Island to build stronger communities, together.

Fortunately, upon taking office in January 2011, Governor Lincoln Chafee rescinded an executive order that inflamed the immigration debate and made Rhode Island seem hostile to the immigrant and refugee communities. At the press conference he stated: “As Governor, I will work to make Rhode Island the most tolerant and welcoming state in the country. If one wishes to work hard and obey our laws, Rhode Island can be your home.”

With 1 in 8 Rhode Islanders being foreign-born, the present and future well being of Rhode Island can only be asserted when immigrants and refugees feel welcomed in their communities and become active participants of society. The following statistics tell a remarkable story about Rhode Island — the smallest state yet extremely and increasingly diverse:

  • Rhode Island has one of the highest proportions of foreign-born people in the U.S. ranking 12th at 13.5% (Migration Policy Institute).
  • 25% of children in RI live in immigrant families with either the child being foreign-born or having at least one parent who is foreign-born (Migration Policy Institute).
  • In 2011, 2,682 people were naturalized as new U.S. citizens in Rhode Island (U.S. Department of Homeland Security).
  • In 2011, 3,681 people obtained legal permanent resident status in Rhode Island (U.S. Department of Homeland Security).
  • 150-200 new refugees are resettled in RI annually (U.S. Committee on Refugees & Immigrants).

There is a great need to work to change the messages people hear about immigrants and refugees in our state. With the shift in demographics of the immigrant and refugee population in Rhode Island, U.S.-born Rhode Islanders may feel uncomfortable and resistant to the changing dynamics in their communities, especially when not much is known about the newly arriving foreign-born.

Welcoming Rhode Island was formed to play an important role in transforming the public dialogue on immigration into one of respect and dignity through relationship building, community education, and a strategic use of media. It is our firm belief that only after we get to know one another, and think of each other as people like ourselves, that we identify with each others’ hopes and challenges, and can work together as neighbors to build stronger, safe, more productive communities.

Accomplishments

Since its inception, Welcoming Rhode Island has gained momentum, support and interest. To date, 319 Welcoming Pledges have been collected from individuals around the state pledging to make Rhode Island a more welcoming state, supporting Welcoming Rhode Island’s efforts and standing for respect, kindness and dignity for all people who call Rhode Island home.

Below is a timeline of Welcoming Rhode Island’s accomplishments:

August 2011
The Welcoming Rhode Island Statewide Advisory Committee was formed with Governor Lincoln Chafee as the Honorary Chair and over 30 members.

September 2011
Became an official affiliate of Welcoming America.

October 2011
Initiative launched with a one-day conference with over 200 participants including 40 speakers and 30 volunteers, and 30 restaurant sponsors.

December 2011
Welcoming RI blog and social media accounts were launched to keep community members connected to the initiative.

January 2012
The City of East Providence unanimously passed a City Council Resolution announcing its partnership with Welcoming RI and support of the initiative. The East Providence Welcoming Committee was formed with over 20 members.

May 2012
Released an international cookbook titled “Welcome to Our Table: The Local Flavors of Rhode Island.”

June 2012
Welcoming Rhode Island cosponsored World Refugee Day, which brought 175 people together.

July 2012
The Cranston Welcoming Committee was formed with over 25 members.

September 2012
Welcoming Rhode Island website and media campaign launches.

November 2012
Welcoming Rhode Island holds first “My Story, Our Community” reception honoring local immigrants and refugees.

April 2013
Welcoming Rhode Island holds second “My Story, Our Community” reception honoring local immigrants and refugees.

May 2013
Welcoming Rhode Island receives prestigious Metcalf Award for Diversity in the Media in the “Unique/Other” category for our website and media campaign.