Hallandale Beach Vice Mayor Sabrina Javellana hopes a new resource guide can help make the city a more inclusive and supportive place for immigrants, regardless of whether they are documented. It will list federal, state, county and city resources for new arrivals.
The effort comes a little over a week after reports surfaced about the federal government sending migrants from the Southern U.S. border to South Florida.
"The main things I hope the resource guide can help people get are transportation, food and clothing, a phone for communication and legal resources from community partners," said Javellana, 21. Her fellow commissioners supported moving forward with the guide.
Javellana became vice mayor in November 2018 after her first run for office. She was the first in her family to be born in the U.S. after her father immigrated to Hallandale Beach from the Philippines and became a U.S. citizen.
She said her understanding of the immigrant experience motivated her to look into what services the city offers to non-citizens.
She didn't find any. All of the city's general services are provided only to residents who can show proof of citizenship or legal residency status.
"That was troubling to me," Javellana said. "This was really a wake up call...I realized the programs that we offer, like monthly food distributions, food gift cards, and our food pantry - they're not available to people who are not residents of our city."
She also looked through Hallandale Beach's human services department, and after-school and senior programs. Those aren't available to anyone who is undocumented, or awaiting citizenship.
"We have really diverse Caribbean populations and Latin American populations, even Eastern European, who are coming here and they need help getting citizenship," she said.
More than 48 percent of the city's population is foreign born (as of 2017), according to estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau. English, Spanish, Russian, and Creole are the most used languages in the city.
The city is working on a new partnership with the Florida Immigrant Coalition, based in Miami, to learn how to refer people to legal aid for help with filling out citizenship paperwork.
And while the Hallandale Beach City Commission has developed a reputation for corruption and cultural insensitivity - a city commissioner made anti-Islamic comments about a sitting congresswoman in January of 2019, and Fmr. Mayor Joy Cooper was arrested and charged with money laundering in 2018 - Javellana wants to help change the city's image.
"We're going to be proactive," she said. "It's so important that we take action because we are the first people who say 'hello' to people who come, and we want to make sure that the 'hello' we say is the most warm and accepting one."
Since last week, the Trump administration and Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan have denounced the initial consideration to fly people from the border to Florida.