Last month, more than 1,000 volunteers—immigrants and citizens alike—fanned out across Chula Vista to clean up our parks and common areas. They painted out graffiti, planted hundreds of plants, and removed litter throughout neighborhoods and canyons.
Over the last four years, Beautify Chula Vista, an event organized by the city and the nonprofit I Love a Clean San Diego, has removed 30 tons of waste.
At a moment of heightened political and racial tensions, especially around the subject of immigration, this community spirit is more important than ever. It’s something that doesn’t just happen however; it must be cultivated and nurtured.
And that’s what we’ve long strived to do here in Chula Vista. Unlike some in the federal government, our municipal leaders understand that immigrants help keep our city running. When they succeed, the entire city reaps the results.
When I was elected Mayor in 2014, I became the first Latina to hold this office. My family has been here for a hundred years, through five generations. But my own background isn’t unique. Out of the more than a quarter million people who live in Chula Vista, more than 59 percent are Latino.
In fact, over 31 percent of Chula Vista’s residents are foreign-born. But that’s not why we succeeded. It’s because we’ve given all our residents, regardless of immigration status, the tools to thrive. We’ve made excellent public safety, effective stewardship of public funds, access to resources and great schools priorities for everyone.
That is why I am so thrilled to announce that two national organizations have recognized our efforts as a diverse and inclusionary city. The bipartisan, non-profit organization, New American Economy, recently ranked us second in the nation in its 2019 Cities Index, which assesses how well the country’s 100 largest cities are helping immigrants to integrate and succeed.
In addition, just last week, the city was the first in California to be designated a Certified Welcoming City through Welcoming America, which recognizes cities that are implementing policies and programs reflecting a commitment to immigrant inclusion. Central to this effort is our Human Relations Commission, which includes the city’s Human Resources Director, City Attorney, and Communications Manager.
The New American Economy Index, which comes out annually gave us perfect score in “Economic Empowerment,” which assesses how well a city has removed barriers to economic success for immigrants. In addition to collaborating with the South County Economic Development Council and the Chula Vista Chamber of Commerce, the Chula Vista Economic Development Department team offers a plethora of resources for starting, growing, and maintaining a business here. We match founders to capital and clearly explain incentives like rebates.
According to this index, the top-ranked 25 cities are more competitive for business and economic investment, since they not only attract larger shares of highly skilled immigrant and U.S.-born residents, but they also support and sustain them. Leading cities also benefit from a higher rate of entrepreneurship and job creation.
Welcoming America is a nonpartisan, national nonprofit that leads a growing movement of inclusive communities becoming more prosperous by helping everyone know they belong. Welcoming America launched its certification program in April 2017 to establish a formal designation for cities and counties that have acted on their commitment to integrating immigrants and met a high standard. Chula Vista completed a year-long, rigorous independent audit to achieve this designation.
The statistics are clear: top cities like ours are better at attracting talent and business, and that’s correlated to having lower disparities between immigrants and American-born residents.
Here in Chula Vista, we know that immigrants are good for the city, and good for our economy. We are as proud to welcome them today as we have always been. We will continue to stand by them, no matter what.
Mary Casillas Salas is mayor of Chula Vista, the second largest city in San Diego County with a population of 268,000.