Lincoln City Clerk Soulinnee Phan stood at the microphone Thursday to promote a new plan for the city and Lancaster County to help immigrants and refugees become an integral part of the community.
She was there because she’s lived it — as a first-generation American whose parents fled Laos, swimming for their lives across the Mekong River to a Thai refugee camp. Phan’s mother was six months pregnant with her when she boarded a military plane for America in 1980.
The family landed in Nebraska and Phan grew up in Beatrice. Her family had a loving sponsor family to help it, but life wasn’t easy. Her parents worked long hours and she felt like an outsider in the mostly white town.
She wished, she said Thursday, that she and her family had had the services described in the plan released Thursday.
“This strategic plan will help our new community members with resources, education and opportunities to grow and prosper,” she said. “They will have support to be able to be a part of our community in many ways. It will help with the transitions and uneasiness that they may still be feeling.”
Phan is far from alone. In the 1980s, Lincoln became a designated refugee resettlement site and resettled more than 5,500 refugees, most of them from Vietnam, and by 1993 Lincoln was accepting about 1,200 refugees a year. In 2016, Nebraska resettled more refugees per capita than any other state.
Today, Lincoln is home to more than 30,000 immigrants and refugees from 150 countries. More statistics from the American Immigration Council:
* Between 2014 and 2019, Lancaster County’s population increased by 6.5%, while the immigrant population grew by 16.2%, meaning more than 18% of the total population growth was attributable to immigrants.
* In 2019, immigrants in the region held $455.7 million in spending power and paid $89 million in federal taxes and $60 million in state and local taxes.
* Despite making up 8.2% of the area’s overall population in 2019, immigrants represented 11.7% of STEM workers; 21.1% of manufacturing workers; 11.8% of hospitality workers; 11.7% of education workers; 9.9% of essential food service workers; 9.3% of essential construction workers; and 8.2% of essential health care workers.