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Ellis Island Initiative Convenes Bipartisan Leaders to Develop Strategies for Integrating Newly Arrived Immigrant Families

Rochester Convening of Elected Officials, Businesses, Nonprofits, and Faith Leaders is First in a Statewide Series to Develop Common-Sense, Localized Strategies for Welcoming New Arrivals

ROCHESTER, NY – Today, the Ellis Island Initiative held a regional convening – the first of a set of convenings statewide – in Rochester, bringing together elected officials, business groups, nonprofits, and faith leaders to strategize on a bipartisan, common-sense, coordinated approach for welcoming recently arrived families.

Hosted by the United Way of Greater Rochester and the Finger Lakes, Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce, and RochesterWorks, today’s meeting included Rochester Mayor Malik Evans; Thalis Moore, Commissioner of the Monroe County Department of Human Services; Assemblymember Harry Bronson; Federation of Social Workers; 1199SEIU; the Ibero-American Action League; local business owners; and the New York State Restaurant Association. The regional convening builds on Rochester’s approach of placing newcomers in jobs as work authorizations are approved.

Key priorities emerging from today’s discussion include:

  • Supporting and scaling apprenticeship programs to build pathways to stable, living wages and provide stipends;
  • Breaking down barriers around certification to speed up access to jobs and fill the most critical workforce openings;
  • Continue engaging diverse stakeholders – including businesses – to build more welcoming communities, meet urgent workforce needs, and grow local economies across the state.

With nearly half a million open jobs across New York, the Ellis Island Initiative is convening workforce development organizations, employers, and labor unions across the state to build pathways to employment for recent arrivals and longtime New Yorkers alike. Local leaders agreed that the current influx of asylum seekers is a major opportunity to inject new energy into the regional economy. Additionally, the state’s multi-billion dollar investment toward supporting asylum-seekers has the potential to uplift countless local businesses from restaurants to security and construction.

The Rochester regional convening is the first in a statewide series that will bring together members of local governments and representatives from labor, business, and faith groups to discuss concrete steps for better integrating recent arrivals into our communities. Rochester, like the rest of New York, is facing an aging workforce and outmigration crisis which has led to decline in the city’s workforce participation, currently at 60%, below pre-pandemic levels. Additional convenings will take place in Albany, Syracuse, Poughkeepsie, Brewster, and other parts of the state.

“I am so proud of the vital work that the City of Rochester and local leaders have done to welcome new arrivals. While the influx has proven challenging at times, New York has welcomed immigrants for centuries, and we have a real opportunity to strengthen our regional economy,” said Rochester Mayor Malik Evans. “When stakeholders come together, like we did today, we are able to come up with concrete steps we can take to make sure that we are welcoming our new neighbors into our communities in ways that are beneficial to everyone involved. If we can lend a helping hand to them, and they can help us to fill the jobs we need filled, we must act.”

"Immigrants have always been a profound source of strength for America, enriching our nation with diverse talents and perspectives. Today, we stand at a pivotal opportunity for the Greater Rochester region and our neighbor communities across New York State to recognize the invaluable contributions that immigrants can bring to our workforce,” said Bob Duffy, President and CEO, Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce. “With nearly half a million open jobs across the state today, and transformative developments on the horizon like the federal Tech Hub designation, our community is primed to leverage this collective strength. We are proud to welcome and support our immigrant population, recognizing their skills as vital assets for our shared success."

“We have a unique opportunity for newcomers to experience growth and development through employment in the restaurant industry because of the low barrier to entry. I myself began as a dishwasher at the restaurant I now own,” said Aaron Metras, owner of Salena’s Mexican Restaurant and a member of the New York State Restaurant Association. “Employment in our industry often does not require language fluency, which can be a significant advantage for newly arrived individuals. The vast majority of new immigrants demonstrate an unparalleled work ethic, and they can help fill crucial gaps in the restaurant industry, which is still reeling from the pandemic. The quicker we are able to employ them, the better – for our benefit and their’s.”

“As I welcome asylum seekers to Rochester, I see the faces of our hermanas, tios, and cousins — and the blood, sweat, and tears they shed to pursue their American Dreams,” said Angelica Perez-Delgado, President and CEO of the Ibero-American Action League. “Our new families share the experiences of generations of previous immigrants. Reaching those dreams was not easy, but together, like the partnerships represented today, those dreams are made more attainable by the humanity and dignity with which the people who came before us were welcomed.”

“1199’s mission has always been to secure good jobs for workers across the country and in New York,” said Tracey Harrison, an 1199 SEIU representative. “Right now, we have a vital opportunity, not only here in Rochester but across New York, to integrate our new neighbors into our communities while helping them secure good paying, union jobs and addressing critical staffing needs. I’m proud to work with this broad coalition of stakeholders to start this necessary conversation, and hope that it serves as a foundation as we identify solutions to create more welcoming communities for our newly arrived siblings.”


About Ellis Island Initiative
The Ellis Island Initiative is a bipartisan statewide coalition of New York’s leading labor, business, faith and advocacy organizations aiming to transform the state’s approach to integrating asylum-seeking families into our communities. While this influx has undoubtedly proven challenging to local officials, the arrival of migrant families represents a real opportunity to revitalize upstate local economies, fill open jobs in local industries, and provide new opportunities for local small businesses. To meet this moment, the Ellis Island Initiative is convening leading voices from across the ideological spectrum to highlight how communities all over New York can benefit from a thoughtful, non-political approach to integrating new immigrants. For more information visit


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