AUGUST 3, 2016 – The City of Houston Office of International Communities, Neighborhood Centers and the Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative announced a partnership that will make Houston an official “Welcoming City” committed to creating a welcoming environment for immigrants and refugees.  The partnership will launch a multi-sector strategic planning effort focused on welcoming and integrating new Americans.

Houston joins numerous municipal governments that have signed on as Welcoming Cities, including Los Angeles, Atlanta, Chicago and New York City.  Welcoming Cities is an initiative of Welcoming America, a national nonprofit organization with expertise in local innovations that advance civic, economic and linguistic integration.

Immigrant Integration Strategic Plan

The Welcoming Houston initiative will bring together leaders from the nonprofit, business, education, faith and cultural sectors to develop a multi-sector strategic plan focused on improving opportunities and advancing integration for foreign-born residents.

“As a Welcoming City, Houston is committed to building an inclusive environment where all communities have the opportunity to contribute to our economy and vibrant civic, social and cultural fabric,” said Mayor Sylvester Turner.  “We are the most diverse city in the nation.  With that distinction comes the responsibility of ensuring that we are also an inclusive and equitable city where everyone has fair access to jobs, education, essential services and a voice in local government.  This strategic plan will help guide us as we work toward that goal.”

The plan will set forth recommendations focused on economic mobility, access to services, education, language access, public safety and legal status.  Welcoming Houston partners will present the plan to the mayor in November as part of the city’s observance of Citizenship Month.

“This plan will continue to make Houston a welcoming place of opportunity for all,” said Angela Blanchard, President and CEO of Neighborhood Centers.  “Through this collaboration, we will ensure our city enhances our position as one of the most attractive destinations for immigrants looking for a place where they feel welcomed, they can work and they can build a future for themselves and their families.”

“This strategic planning process will only work if a wide array of stakeholders is engaged,” said Kate Vickery, Executive Director of the Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative, a local coalition representing many immigrant-serving nonprofit organizations.  “We are looking forward to working with members of the public and private sector to make recommendations on how Houston can be more welcoming to its incredibly rich and growing immigrant populations.”

The planning effort is supported by the Gateways for Growth Challenge, an initiative of Partnership for a New American Economy (NAE) and Welcoming America.  Houston is one of 20 communities nationwide selected to receive support for immigrant integration planning.

The strategic plan will be presented to Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner as part of Citizenship Month in November. Implementation of the recommendations will be the responsibility all of the involved stakeholders.

Immigrant Population Economic Impact

Current data on the impact of the foreign-born population in Texas and Houston, including tax contributions, spending power and role in key industries as leaders and job creators, supports the importance of building a welcoming environment for immigrants and refugees.

The initiative will be informed by a recent report published by NAE revealing that Houston’s foreign-born population has grown 17% from 2009 to 2014 – accounting for 34% of the overall population growth in the region. Foreign-born residents contributed $116.5 billion to the region’s GDP and held $31.8 billion in spending power in 2014. While the foreign-born make up one-quarter of the overall-population, they are 32% of the employed labor force and 42% of the self-employed labor force. Foreign-born residents in Houston are twice as likely to own their own businesses than their U.S.-born counterparts. Welcoming Cities demonstrate their commitment to ensuring the inclusion and long-term economic integration of newcomers.

The launch of Welcoming Houston also coincides with the Reason for Reform national campaign, which brings together state business, civic and cultural leaders to urge Congress to take action on immigration reform. A statewide report on the economic contributions of immigrants in Texas was released as part of the Reason for Reform campaign.

Further reading

New Americans in Houston: A Snapshot of the Demographic and Economic Contributions of Immigrants in the Houston Area (NAE Report)

The Contributions of New Americans in Texas (NAE Report)

Media Coverage

Houston moves to become ‘Welcoming City’ for immigrants (Houston Chronicle)

Report: Immigrants inject over $116 billion into Houston’s GDP (Houston Chronicle)

Houston Launches Effort to Welcome Immigrants, Refugees (ABC13)

Officials and community members meet to discuss immigration reform at the local level (Fox26)

City leaders launch Welcoming Houston initiative (Defender Network)

Houston Becomes an Official “Welcoming City” (Houston Public Media)

Our Welcoming City (Houston Chronicle editorial)

JUNE 23, 2016 – Today, the U.S. Supreme Court split 4-4 on Texas v. United States, upholding per curiam the existing injunction delaying any implementation of expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA). This means that the lawsuit filed by the State of Texas and joined by 26 other states against the President’s administrative action will continue through the merits phase of the case. The Supreme Court did not rule on the merits of expanded DACA or DAPA, leaving open the possibility of another appeal after the case in Brownsville concludes. The Court’s decision does not affect the existing DACA program, which has been in place since 2012.

Under DAPA, 3.6 million unauthorized immigrants who are parents of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents may be able to gain work authorization and protection from deportation. An estimated 200,000 individuals in the greater Houston area may qualify for the DAPA or expanded DACA programs. Those programs, however, remain on hold after today’s ruling.

The Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative (Collaborative) is a network of trusted organizations that provide accurate and high-quality legal services to immigrants for free or very low cost. The Collaborative’s member organizations should be the go-to sources of information for members of the community seeking free or low-cost immigration legal services.

The Collaborative hosted a press conference today at MECA, home to United We Dream, featuring members of the collaborative and community members impacted by the Supreme Court’s non-decision.

“Today’s supreme court ruling may leave some people confused about their legal status,” said Kate Vickery, Executive Director of the Collaborative. “Even without DAPA and the expanded DACA program available right now, however, many people may qualify for some other form of immigration relief, including DACA 2012, that they aren’t aware of. We encourage Houstonians to seek assistance from one of our member organizations. We want people to get high quality legal assistance from trustworthy organizations.”

It is very important to note that the original DACA program, launched in 2012, remains in place and active. More than 700,000 individuals have received DACA in the United States and the benefits are well-documented. Individuals seeking deferred action through the DACA program should seek legal advice from one of the Collaborative’s trusted partners, listed at

There is a lot of misinformation about deferred action programs. Unscrupulous individuals, often called “notarios,” take advantage of immigrants, scamming them out of money and often putting their ability to obtain legal status in jeopardy forever.

Tips for avoiding immigration fraud:

  • Before speaking with an immigration legal services provider, make sure he/she is a licensed attorney or Board of Immigration Appeals accredited representative.  Notarios are not authorized to practice law in the United States unless they are also licensed attorneys.
  • Do not listen to consultants, notarios, or lawyers who ask for money to place you or your family on a waiting list to submit your application for some form of relief.
  • Avoid telephone scammers posing as U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) personnel or other government officials.  USCIS will not call you to ask for any information over the phone.
  • If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. When in doubt, check with a trusted organization and with the USCIS website for answers.

Find a trusted organization to seek assistance with DACA or another form of legal relief.

Coverage of the June 23, 2016 press conference:

“Houston Leaders Decry SCOTUS Immigration Ruling” – Houston Chronicle 

“Supreme Court’s tie blocks Obama immigration order” – Houston Chronicle

“Advocates speak on Supreme Court split decision over Obama immigration plan” – KPRC

Inmigrantes, decepcionados por fallo sobre acción ejecutiva – Univision 45 Houston

Thousands of undocumented immigrants in Houston area reeling from Supreme Court ruling – Fox26

Houston Endowment Affirms Commitment to Legal Resources for Immigrants in Light of Supreme Court Ruling on DACA/DAPA


The Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative is a consortium of non-profit organizations that provide free and low-cost legal and related services to immigrants in the Houston area, including refugees. Collaborative stakeholders include community organizations, charitable foundations, private attorneys, law schools, social workers, faith leaders, and business leaders who are committed to providing a wide array of services for immigrants. The Collaborative seeks to be a source of timely and accurate information for its stakeholders and the greater Houston community, through non-biased, fact-based information. Here is some such information about the current Syrian refugee situation that you may wish to consider:

Refugees are fleeing persecution based on race, religion, nationality, membership in a social group or political opinion.
The United Nations estimates that nearly 60 million people are currently displaced as a result of wars, conflict and persecution around the world – an all-time high. Half of those displaced people are children. More than 11 million are Syrians, displaced by an ongoing civil war and violence. Of those, more than 4 million are officially registered refugees – mostly women and children –seeking safety and possibly permanent homes in the European Union, and the United States.

Less than 1% of displaced people worldwide are ever granted refugee status, and only a small portion of them in the United States. Congress sets limits on the numbers of refugees who may be admitted to the United States each year. In response to the humanitarian crisis in Syria, the Obama Administration recently increased the number of refugees the United States will accept this year from 70,000 to 85,000. For Syrians in particular, the Obama Administration has proposed increasing the number of available refugee admissions to 10,000 (of the 85,000 total).

Obtaining refugee status and eventual resettlement is very challenging.
The way in which refugees are identified, processed, and eventually settled in the United States is known as USRAP, the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program. To enter the USRAP program, a refugee must submit a lengthy legal application while they are physically outside the United States. To become a refugee in the United States, the applying individual must prove that he or she is “unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin or nationality because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution,” based on race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. Due to the complexity of the law, refugees face a significant challenge when seeking to prove persecution and/or “well-founded fear.” The process can take several years to complete.

Seventy-five percent of refugee applicants in the United States are referred by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR). UNHCR refers only about 1% of all potential refugees for resettlement, and only Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United States have formal resettlement programs to accept refugee applications referred by UNHCR. The UNHCR prioritizes the most vulnerable refugees when referring cases to the United States and the 28 or so other countries who have agreed to accept Syrians. Priority populations include female-headed households, victims of torture and violence, religious minorities, LGBT refugees, and people needing urgent medical care.

Refugees are subject to the highest level of security checks of any traveler to the U.S.
All refugees under consideration for resettlement in the United States are vetted by multiple security screenings and intensive background checks that take, on average, 18 to 24 months. These screenings are conducted by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the State Department, and the FBI.  One of the most important components of the process is an in-person interview with trained DHS officers. Once refugees receive conditional approval for resettlement, they are guided through a process of medical screenings, cultural orientation, sponsorship assurances, and referral to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) for transportation to the United States. The White House recently released a helpful infographic explaining the screening process.

The U.S. vetting process for refugees is more rigorous than the process in other countries.
Very few of the numerous processing requirements within the USRAP can be waived, including the in-person DHS interview, security checks, and a medical exam, including a TB test. According to a State Department Official speaking on September 11, 2015, “This is one way – one of the many ways in which our Refugee Resettlement Program differs from a lot of other countries’ resettlement programs. A lot of other countries can do things like waive an in-person interview. They can take a case based on dossier. They do very few security checks in some cases. Those are not options that are available to us.” For more details about the U. S.s’ screening process, we recommend this USCIS factsheet.

Most refugees become naturalized American citizens.
To remain in the United States after initial admission, refugees must apply for lawful permanent resident (LPR) status—also known as getting a green card—within one year of being admitted to the United States. As lawful permanent residents, refugees have the right to own property, attend public schools, join certain branches of the U.S. armed forces, and travel internationally without an entry visa After becoming a lawful permanent resident, refugees may apply for citizenship after five years in the United States. On the whole, refugees are more likely to naturalize than any other immigrant group. Between 2009 and 2013, 59% of the LPRs who entered the United States as refugees became naturalized citizens (compared to 44% of all other immigrants). Many of the organizations affiliated with the Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative provide affordable legal assistance to refugees seeking this “adjustment of status.”

Refugees are an important part of the Houston community.
The Houston Chronicle recently dubbed Houston a “city of refugees,” a title well-deserved by the fact that nearly 40% of the refugees resettled in Texas land in Harris county. In fact, Houston welcomes more refugees than any other city in the United States, in large part because of the quality of the non-profit refugee resettlement agencies in Houston. That, combined with a relatively low cost of living, ample job opportunity and a diverse community – 1 in every 4 Houstonians is foreign-born and hundreds of languages are spoken here – makes Houston an ideal location for refugees trying to start over in the United States. In 2014, 4,818 immigrants were resettled in Harris County as refugees, parolees, special immigrant juveniles, asylees, and victims of human trafficking. Each of these categories represents a different mechanism for obtaining legal status in the United States and all are very difficult to obtain. In 2014 (the most current data available), 40% of refugee program arrivals were from Cuba, 27% from Iraq, 10% from Afghanistan, 7% from Burma (Myanmar), and the rest from a variety of war-torn countries.

Houston is home to five refugee resettlement agencies, which regularly work together to coordinate services and are all part of the Collaborative. The five agencies are Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Houston-Galveston, Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston, Refugee Services of Texas, YMCA International Services, and Alliance for Multicultural Community Services. All of these agencies welcome questions and volunteers.

About the Collaborative
Founded in 2013, the Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative is a collective of non-profit organizations that provide free and low-cost legal services to immigrants in the Houston region. The Collaborative’s mission is to create a coordinated network of effective and efficient services to assist low-income immigrants access the information and legal representation that allows them to make choices in their own best interest. Follow us @HTXimmigration.