South Florida

3 Miami-Dade leaders get White House honor for aiding immigrants

Robert Hill was honored at the White House Wednesday with two other Miami-Dade professionals in the hospitality industry.
Robert Hill was honored at the White House Wednesday with two other Miami-Dade professionals in the hospitality industry.

The White House honored three Miami-Dade executives Wednesday for helping immigrants navigate the naturalization-application process within the workforce.

Robert Hill, general manager of the InterContinental Miami hotel; Wendy Kallergis, president and CEO of the Greater Miami and the Beaches Hotel Association; and Jonathan Plutzik, chairman and principal owner of the The Betsy hotel are three of 10 people across the country who were named “Champions of Change.”

The other seven honorees are from New York, California and Ohio.

“These Champions recognize that citizenship is an asset for businesses, workers and their families, strengthening our overall economy,” according to a White House statement.

From that group of 10, five of the honorees — including Hill, Kallergis and Plutzik — are partners in the New American Workforce program, which works with businesses to help eligible employees who are immigrants to become citizens in seven cities with large numbers of legal permanent residents.

Hill, a native of Ireland who said he “won the lottery” when he received one of a very limited number of green cards in the early 1990s, was still trying to process the whole experience Wednesday afternoon. After arriving in the United States in 1994, he became a U.S. citizen a little more than 10 years ago.

“I just got interviewed in front of the White House on camera,” Hill said from a taxi as he headed to the airport after the event. “Did I ever think I would be there? No...But it’s a great honor.”

ABOUT THE HONOREES

▪ Hill serves on the National Immigration Forum Advisory Board. He offers assistance to those navigating the citizenship process at the InterContinental Miami hotel, and has helped about 40 of them, 10 of whom have obtained U.S. citizenship, according to a release. He has more than 25 years of experience in international hotel management.

▪ Kallergis has partnered with the National Immigration Forum’s New American Workforce, through which 13 hotel association businesses have hosted 15 citizenship workshops that have educated and offered citizenship services to about 6,100 employees. She has reached out to colleagues in other cities who are interested in replicating the program she runs. She said she hopes to see the number of hospitality employees who become U.S. citizens triple in the next years.

▪ Plutzik, whose business is built around Philanthropy, Arts, Culture and Education (PACE) programming, has collaborated with almost 250 service organizations. The Betsy has actively supported eligible employees’ efforts to become U.S. citizens. He serves on the Board of Fannie Mae and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

The Champions of Change program was created as an opportunity for the White House to honor individuals who empower and inspire members of their communities.

Miami Herald staff writer Hannah Sampson contributed to this report.

Follow @MoniqueOMadan on Twitter.

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