In welcoming new Americans, Miami businesses walk the walk


On immigration, many eyes are focused on the president’s recent announcement of executive action. But here in Miami, hospitality industry leaders already have been helping change the nation’s conversation on immigrants and immigration through the New American Workforce.

The workforce (formerly the Bethlehem Project) simultaneously benefits employees and employers. It simplifies the citizenship process by facilitating partnerships among local businesses and legal service providers. This leads to increased employee loyalty as well as stronger businesses and communities.

I was selected as one of 10 White House Champions of Change for Promoting Citizenship in the Workplace, and South Florida’s hospitality industry was well represented at the Oct. 22 ceremony. Fellow honorees included Jonathan Plutzik, chairman and principal owner of The Betsy-South Beach, and Robert Hill, general manager at the InterContinental Miami. That is a testimonial to our commitment to employees and their families.

While I was in Washington, I had the opportunity to join nearly 200 thought leaders to discuss how we talk about immigrants and how we need to welcome their contributions to our diversifying country. The New American Workforce is an example of how we can be more welcoming.

Our country thrives when new Americans have the opportunities, skills and status to reach their fullest potential, and I’m proud to be part of a community that is already walking the walk. We are creating the opportunities, encouraging the skills and supporting the status.

Twenty-four Miami businesses are now part of the New American Workforce, which launched in 2013. They are helping some of the area’s half-million legal permanent residents take the final step toward their American dream.

They include not just the hospitality industry but also health care: Baptist Health South Florida, University of Miami Hospital and its affiliates, and the South Florida Hospitals and Health Association continue to strengthen their efforts.

Miami Dade College has expanded to a second campus, and more additions are in the works in coming weeks.

It doesn’t end there. Last month, the City of Miami Beach Commission voted to partner with the National Immigration Forum’s New American Workforce for the employees — the first municipality in the U.S.

Our businesses are holding information sessions and application workshops as well as English and civics instruction to prepare employees for the citizenship test.

Citizenship generates goodwill and a positive work atmosphere, resulting in proud new American citizens whose families have more professional opportunities, who have gained the right to vote and who can travel on an American passport.

We’ve also seen greater employee retention, as several of these employees have been promoted within their companies and are more invested in their workplaces.

Marizza, a new citizen whom the New American Workforce helped, recently wrote about how proud she was to be part of a program that allows her and other Betsy Hotel employees “to share the American Dream with all of you.

“Now after six months of being an American citizen and having traveled briefly out of the country, I cannot tell you how grateful I am and how excited I am to vote in the coming elections!” she wrote.

Bethlehem Steel hired vast numbers of immigrants from eastern and southern Europe and provided them with English-language courses. Even in the 1800’s, Bethlehem Steel recognized a nation where immigrants were vital to our nation’s economic prosperity.

Today, in an increasingly diverse and vibrant America, we look forward to more businesses and partners making a commitment in this same spirit — to our employees, our communities and our shared future.

We encourage our legal permanent resident employees to learn about the benefits of citizenship and apply. Welcoming new Americans will continue to be a key part of our success moving forward.

Wendy Kallergis serves as the president and CEO of Greater Miami & The Beaches Hotel Association.