New Americans Initiative

New Americans Initiative

In November 2019, building upon an existing state workgroup, Governor Polis announced the addition of a position of New American advisor, co-housed at CDLE and the Governor’s Office. The New Americans Initiative will identify and address issues related to integration, foster enhanced inclusion of New Americans in Colorado’s civic, social, and economic life, and ensure equitable opportunities for newcomers. 

Read the announcement here.

The New Americans Initiative will work in partnership with other state departments, create working stakeholder groups, and systematically enhance services to New Americans through diverse approaches, 

Who are New Americans?

New Americans are Coloradans who arrived to the US as immigrants or their children. 

This population includes: refugees, asylees, Special Immigrant Visa holders, victims of trafficking, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) recipients, and all other immigrants and aspiring citizens seeking opportunity, safety, and/or reunification of family. 

New Americans are children, parents, teachers, students, patients, doctors, contractors, homeowners, entrepreneurs, consumers, family members, friends, and neighbors. 

What is integration? 

Integration is a dynamic, two-way process in which newcomers and the receiving society work together to build secure, vibrant, cohesive communities (Source: Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees). 

Colorado believes that immigrant integration benefits us all, and an intentional, responsive process to engage and welcome transforms all community stakeholders, enriching our collective social, economic, and civic life. 

The New Americans Initiative has three specific priority areas:

  • Economic Opportunity

  • Access

  • Changing the Narrative

Economic Opportunity

New Americans represent a growing portion of Colorado’s workforce and an area of untapped potential. The Initiative will enhance state, regional, and local efforts to ensure systems respond to individuals’ aspirations, including those of New Americans, and support the development of state and local economies. 

Access

Access to existing services for individuals and families depends on a myriad of factors, including language. The Initiative will work with state departments and their provider networks to ensure equitable access to vital services. 

Changing the Narrative

New Americans are part of the fabric of our state, and we celebrate their contributions to our social, civic, and economic life. The Initiative will work cross-department and sector to lift up stories of the ways New Americans contribute to our Colorado way of life. 

The entirety of the office’s work is guided by three considerations, which emphasize the importance of:

  1. Diversity: Acknowledgement of the diversity of the communities in Colorado, including within the community of New Americans.

  2. Equity: Understanding that individuals may need different investments in order for everyone to succeed.

  3. Inclusion: Representation of diversity of perspectives and input from all types of stakeholders. 

Approach:

  • Policy: Innovation, revision, development, and adoption
  • Awareness: Education, training, and storytelling 
  • Program: Development, enhancement, connection, recruitment, and technical assistance

Assumptions:

  • This process will be iterative: Priorities and strategies may change in response to internal and/or external factors, such as changes to local contexts and environment, new partnerships, or a changing federal landscape. Communication strategies to engage stakeholders may have to differ depending on target audiences. 
  • We must stay informed: In a fast-paced world, it will be imperative to stay abreast of changes that affect the work, which may be accomplished through ongoing engagement with thought partners and/or establishment of feedback loop with communities.
  • We will only succeed if we are adaptable and flexible: Focus may shift as needed to accommodate needs, opportunities, challenges, and/or changes. Balance between short and long term strategies may also affect approaches, but there is a commitment to meaningful achievement and impact that will permeate decision-making processes. 

Joe Barela, Executive Director, Colorado Department of Labor and Employment 

In December 2018, Governor Polis appointed Joe Barela as the Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, a 1300-person state agency housing the Divisions of Unemployment Insurance, Workers’ Compensation, Labor Standards and Statistics, Vocational Rehabilitation, Employment and Training and Oil and Public Safety. Joe brings more than 25 years of experience in workforce issues to CDLE and is seen as a local and national leader in the field. Joe is passionate about creating more opportunities for better career pathways for working Americans, and brings that passion and leadership to his role at CDLE.

In 2015, Joe served at the U.S. Department of Labor as a Senior Advisor; he helped coordinate the USDOL’s implementation of the Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act (WIOA) at state and local levels. In his current role as the Executive Director of CDLE, Joe serves on the Business Experiential and Learning Commission, the Education Leadership Council, and the Colorado Workforce Development Council. He also serves on the board for the Center for Work Education and Employment, and the National Association of State Workforce Agencies while also chairing their Labor Market Information Committee.

Joe is a graduate of the University of Colorado at Boulder. He furthered his skillset by obtaining two certificates: in 2007, he completed the University of Colorado at Boulder's Executive Development Program, and in 2014, he finished the Fels Institute of Government at the University of Pennsylvania's Workforce Leadership Development Program.

Kit Taintor, Senior Advisor on New American Integration

In November 2019, Kit became the Senior Advisor on New American Integration to Governor Polis and the Department of Labor and Employment. She spent the previous six years as Colorado's State Refugee Coordinator,  building and enhancing collaborative public-private partnerships between systems and services at various levels to promote effective refugee resettlement and long-term integration. Her initiatives, in partnership with her team, included the development and implementation of new programs in employment, education, welcoming, and health that resulted in Colorado's national-level leadership in refugee programming and the publication of multiple research studies on refugee integration, including the economic impacts of resettlement, that added value to the national and state-level dialogue on immigration. Prior to joining state government, Kit was the executive director of the Colorado African Organization, a local community-based nonprofit, for over five years, overseeing Colorado's first deployment of community navigators in the refugee community and a revenue increase of 600%. Kit’s background also includes work internationally with nongovernmental organizations in Africa and as a Peace Corps volunteer in Malawi. She studied at Tulane University’s School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine and the University of Virginia. She has also served the President of the State Coordinators of Refugee Resettlement affinity group, representing state refugee perspectives at a national level, and as a Health Equity Commissioner here in Colorado. 

Ways to support integration efforts

Ask These Questions:

  • Do our policies and practices ensure inclusion of New Americans?
  • How do we define immigrant integration? 
  • Are we serving the New Americans in our communities? How do we know?
  • Who are New Americans in our communities? What are their needs and where are we succeeding? 

Connect:

  • Learn about other efforts in your community

  • Connect cross-sector approaches

  • Consider how your workplace, committee, stakeholder groups represent diversity in your community 

  • Collaborate to use existing strategies to enhance New American integration

Learn:

  • Engage with thought leaders
  • Participate in working groups
  • Meet with community stakeholders

Email kit.taintor@state.co.us to learn more!