Frisco: A Place for Us AllFeb 01, 2019 ● By Allie Spletter
As a community, Frisco continues to move forward into new beginnings. While the economy continues to boom and the population keeps growing, Frisco’s arms stay open wide to new neighbors moving in from out of the country, out of the state or simply from another Texas town. Frisco has established itself as a destination city for sporting events, entertainment attractions, vacations, weekend visits and special events, and the city is becoming a place many have chosen to call home permanently.
One of the special facets of Frisco and its persistent growth is the abundant cultural diversity that has continued to develop … especially as it adds, on average, 37 new residents every day! Not only is Frisco a top-rated city, but it is also decidedly becoming a place legal immigrant families have chosen to call home. While Texas is ground zero for immigration in the U.S., and immigration in and of itself has been a hotbed political topic in recent months and years, our evolving city has adapted, grown and continued to flourish as it welcomes new residents. People are what make Frisco an amazing place to live and raise a family. While the journeys of legal immigrant families are all vastly different, making the choice to call Frisco home serves as a testament to Frisco’s character and future.
Over the past century, immigrants have followed a common pattern of making a home where family and friends have settled previously. While some immigrant families choose to make their homes in coastal states (N.Y., Fla., Calif.), demographers have seen a shift in the migration patterns as more foreign-born professionals are choosing to build their homes in the Lone Star State.
According to the Office of the State Demographer, Texas now leads the nation in the booming growth of its immigrant population. Given the state’s proximity to the Mexican border, a large majority of the state’s immigrant population is Hispanic, while the Asian immigrant population (mainly from India and China) has doubled in recent years. One of the state’s biggest and fastest-growing industries, construction, has the largest number of immigrant workers, while immigrants are also largely integral in the manufacturing, retail trade, health care and food services industries. Legal immigrants in Texas have contributed tens of billions of dollars in taxes, and, as consumers, add tens of billions of dollars to the state’s economy. Immigrant entrepreneurs generate billions of dollars in revenue and markedly impact business income. Whether it is through professional jobs, trade jobs, owning a business or working to build a business, the immigrant population works hard to contribute to our increasingly diverse community and expanding economy.
Neighborhoods across Frisco have embraced culture and diversity through celebration and acceptance, and a large part of that embrace and acceptance are others welcoming families as we all learn to grow together. Simply driving through the city gives one a glimpse into different cultures in the area, given that the city has embraced restaurants, businesses and industries of all kinds that are influenced by culture. Exposure to the various cultures represented in Frisco does amazing things for people, as it allows individuals to learn about themselves and others and gives them exposure to different languages, smells, colors, sights, sounds and people. Experiencing other cultures increases and broadens one’s view of the world and allows them to experience new perspectives and lifestyles. For immigrants, it is as much about learning the culture of their new home as it is about teaching others about theirs.
Yolian Ogbu, a political science and communications student at the University of North Texas, is a first-generation American and child of immigrants who came to the U.S. from Eritrea (a country in East Africa) in 1996. She knows, firsthand, about the amount of pride she has for her parents and culture and is now proud to call Frisco her home. Of her parents’ journey, Ms. Ogbu shares, “They worked so they could build a life in America from scratch, basically for the children they would have soon. I am extremely proud to have parents who came to America with almost nothing but the clothes on their back and built an amazing life for me and my siblings. I have been able to pursue my passions in university and become a fierce advocate for others. My brothers are able to compete in the soccer league, excel in band and do anything they put their minds to. My family truly embodies what the American Dream is all about.”
Whether legal immigrants in Frisco are first-generation, guiding their families to a new life or multi-generational families that have been established here for years, these families chose Frisco for a myriad of reasons, all of which are serving as continual validation that Frisco is truly a great home for everyone.
Even as a small town, Frisco’s appeal has always been about the people. The land, development opportunities and eventual growth being experienced now are added bonuses. As the fastest-growing city in the country, others are noticing Frisco as it continues to attract immigrant families with high-paying jobs, affordable housing and an outstanding school district where diversity is celebrated and embraced.
On top of being one of the fastest-growing cities in the country, Frisco was also named the “No. 1 Best Place to Live in America” by Money Magazine. Perhaps, the best part is that those statistics and accolades attract not only amazing businesses, but new families, and those statistics are a reason many families are choosing to make a life here. Frisco’s central location is only made better by the fact that it is bordered by three major roadways, including State Highway 121, the Dallas North Tollway and U.S. Highway 380, which make commuting to work easily accessible. The developments only keep coming as we continue to grow and the Frisco North Platinum Corridor evolves, our Historic Downtown comes into its own and sports ventures and partnerships continue to flourish.
Frisco boasts a highly-educated workforce, as more than 60 percent of the population ages 25 and older have bachelor’s degrees or have completed higher levels of education. Frisco’s targeted industries include advanced technology, corporate headquarters, professional and informational systems and sports, digital media and videogaming.
Frisco has an amazing quality of life that encourages residents to get out and explore, whether at one of Frisco’s 48 parks, 56 miles of trails, taking in a game at any four of the professional sports venues or roaming around the Texas Sculpture Garden, Frisco Discovery Center, the National Video Game Museum or the Museum of the American Railroad. The opportunities for advancement are limitless, and opportunity is what immigrant families are seeking.
Ms. Ogbu says, “My parents heard of Frisco through a family friend … and that Frisco had very kid-friendly neighborhoods and a great school district. We moved in 2005, and it has been home ever since! My parents knew moving here was the best decision they could make, and it has really served as an integral part of my personal growth.”
The Frisco ISD currently serves nearly 60,000 students in 10 high schools, 17 middle schools, 42 elementary schools and three special programs schools. Given that Frisco is one of the fastest-growing cities in the country, the FISD is one of the fastest-growing school districts, with students moving in daily due to the district’s exceptional reputation for academic success, innovative and wide-ranging programs and extracurricular activities. The FISD’s student population is one boasting diverse cultures and languages, with more than half of the population comprised of students of color. 26 percent are Asian, 13 percent are Hispanic and 10 percent are African American. Three percent are two or more races, .5 percent are American Indian/Alaskan and .08 percent are Hawaiian/Pacific Islander. There are more than 70 languages spoken in the FISD, and the district has developed a Diversity Task Force to maintain an educational environment committed to promoting equality, embracing diversity and differences and encouraging active participation on the parts of families and the community.
School districts in Texas are required, by law, to assess the English language proficiency of all students whose Home Language Survey indicates the language spoken in their home is a language other than English. If the child has a limited proficiency in the English language, he/she will be eligible for the appropriate language program, either the bilingual education program or the English as a Second Language (ESL) program. The goals of such programs are to aid English Language Learners in becoming educated in reading, listening, speaking and writing English. Frisco’s outstanding school district has served as the catalyst to an amazing life for so many students through the years, including those who are part of legal immigrant families.
Ali Samana moved to the U.S. from Pakistan in 1997 and was adopted by his aunt and uncle who ultimately helped rear him through his pivotal teenage years. Mr. Samana recalls, “We moved in 1999 and chose Frisco because it was a small town and the schools had a stellar reputation.” Mr. Samana is a graduate of Frisco High School, and eventually went on to The University of Texas at Dallas and graduated with a degree in political science before serving five years with the U.S. Navy. Mr. Samana continues to serve his country as a U.S. Navy Reservist. He eventually went back to earn his master’s in business administration, which lead him to found and become the president of Farzana, LLC. “The diversity and inclusive culture of Frisco made and still makes it an exceptional place to call home. I love the opportunities this land has given me and my family — from being able to build businesses to being able to raise a family with safety and security. This country has provided the right ingredients for our success.”
Frisco resident Fatima Patel was born and raised in Lagos, Nigeria. After completing high school in Nigeria, she applied to the University of North Texas, where she got accepted into the Logistics and Supply Chain Management program which was a “dream come true,” Ms. Patel says. During her third year of college, she was offered an internship at a company that was right along her career path. So, she took the offer. After graduating with honors, she was offered a position with the same company.
She married her husband, Arif Qureshi, 18 years ago and they have three children, including their daughter, Asra, an eighth-grader at Vandeventer Middle School, their son, Zoheir, a fourth-grader at Imagine Academy of North Texas and their daughter, Aiza, who goes to Frisco Early Childhood School.
Now, Ms. Patel is a housewife and full-time employee working for MoneyGram International as a Strategic Sourcing Manager. “We choose to live in Frisco to be closer to family. Frisco has amazing schools and the diversity that feeds into these schools is really good for our kids to get exposed to,” she shares. “As an immigrant, I am proud that I can give my kids the same diversity I was raised in and feel that kids should not be sheltered in one specific ethnicity. In my opinion, Frisco is an amazing place for immigrant families to call home because, not only do you get a great school district, but you also get cultural diversity!”
It is no secret that the journeys of some of these families are less than ideal as they deal with the legalities of forging a new path and building a new life for themselves. However, North Texas has resources legal immigrant families can utilize to make their transition smoother. While some journeys of immigrant families are peaceful ones, many are not, as some immigrant families are forced to flee from unsafe environments in an effort to live safer and more peaceful lives. Such events can be a lot for families, especially children.
Heart House is an apartment-based education nonprofit organization that serves immigrant children with innovative after-school and summer programs that utilize social emotional learning to help them thrive in their new community. The sole mission of the organization is to combat poverty and promote equity for the most vulnerable population in the city, immigrant children, as they guide them from chaos to calm. Soudary Kittivong-Greenbaum, the director of external relations, explains, “Our programs allow children to improve academic performance and mental health, while our core services include culturally-sensitive and trauma-informed art and play therapy/counseling, parent engagement and community outreach.”
The organization’s Head, Heart, Hands program utilizes social emotional learning to improve academic performance and mental health in these children, which leads to a decreased at-risk status at school. Ms. Kittivong-Greenbaum says, “Imagine being forced to flee your home and the chaos that would ensue as you resettle into a new country and culture you do not understand. The weight of the trauma you carry is intensified as you encounter extraordinary obstacles, including language barriers, poverty, discrimination and insufficient educational resources. Approximately 7,000 refugee children live in the culturally-rich area we serve, and most Heart House students (98 percent) are non-native English speakers. Eighteen languages/dialects are represented. Eighty-five percent of students have been displaced due to crime/political instability in their country of origin. One hundred percent qualify for free/reduced school lunches.”
Ms. Kittivong-Greenbaum believes investing in early childhood experiences, especially through the holistic, community-based approach used at Heart House, gives refugee children the best chance as they acculturate and acclimate. By providing mental health support to refugee children, Heart House strengthens a child’s social emotional development, giving them a stronger chance for overcoming the barriers of young immigrant child.
Jaafar, a Heart House student, shares, “What I love most is learning more things and seeing more people that give me more hope in life.” Giving children a sense of belonging and social emotional learning skills to make it not just in that day, week or school year helps them build life-long skills like resiliency, grit, self-awareness and relationship building.”
Heart House even offers a Parent Resource Center as a space for outreach and parent meetings, community potlucks, English Learner/ESL support and translation services. The Parent Center is multi-purposeful and can transform as needed, being used for community-based health clinics, mothers’ groups, ESL classes, mentoring and a resource library.
Though many immigrants are able to make their way through the process of calling North Texas home and becoming legal residents, some are not, which is where the local organization Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) seeks to help work through that process.
RAICES has grown to be the largest immigration legal services provider in Texas. With offices in Austin, Corpus Christi, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio, RAICES is a frontline organization in the roiling debate about immigration. A diverse staff of 130 attorneys, legal assistants and support staff provide consultations, direct legal services, representation, assistance and advocacy to communities in Texas and to clients after they leave the state. In 2017, RAICES staff closed 51,000 cases at no cost to clients.
RAICES Managing Attorney Felix Villalobos explains, “Our main purpose is to provide legal representation for individuals and families in removal proceedings. Although we do take on naturalization, residency, temporary protected status (TPS), deferred action for childhood arrivals (DACA) and other cases, our niche is removal proceedings representation, meaning we are fighting within the law to help persons stay in the U.S. and, hopefully, gain legal status.” Mr. Villalobos says a majority of cases tend to be families and children, which spans the age range of minors. The main goal of the organization is to provide service and representation to all underserved immigrant communities. “Many immigrant communities are taken advantage of and do not know it. On top of that, Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) manipulative tactics cause family separation and suffering to U.S. citizen children and minors in general.”
Mr. Villalobos believes the work the organization does is vitally important given that access to legal counsel is a large part of U.S. law, yet many immigrants do not have the knowledge, support, money or time to get it. “The immigration court system does not allow time for anyone to understand what they need to do,” Mr. Villalobos says. “Additionally, very few nonprofits actually provide representation in immigration court like we do.”
According to Mr. Villalobos, it is vital that communities welcome immigrant families. He explains, “Immigrants are the lifeblood of the U.S. They always have been and always will be. We are overwhelmingly immigrants ourselves, whether in one generation or several ago. Forgetting what we had to go through is an error that causes ethnocentrism and disadvantages the U.S. as a whole. Most of what we have to gain in the U.S. was brought by immigrants, and we should be welcoming of all cultures so the U.S. can continue to grow and be the best it can be. Stifling immigration hurts us.”
RAICES seeks to educate people on their constitutional rights, such as their right to remain silent in police or ICE encounters or how to avoid being taken advantage of.
The Frisco Police Department, with support from the city and surrounding law enforcement agencies, hosts a program called “UNIDOS” (meaning “united”), which is a Hispanic community outreach program that provides assistance to Spanish speakers in Frisco.
Sergeant Jorge Sanchez, who also serves the community and schools as a School Resource Officer Unit, hosts meetings. “UNIDOS meetings are held quarterly and conducted entirely in Spanish. The goal of the program is to act as a resource for Spanish-speaking residents and present information and provide help in areas of importance to the Hispanic community,” Sergeant Sanchez explains. The program provides Spanish-speaking and immigrant families with the knowledge needed to navigate through rules and laws that often seem obvious to those of us that have lived here. “Our primary goal is to make sure Spanish-speaking families have a way to talk to someone in the event they are victims of a crime. We hope fear does not deter them from seeking help,” he adds. “We are able to direct families to city services to help meet specific needs. We work with Frisco Family Services and local churches that are always willing to help families in need. The biggest reward of the program is the ability to provide people with peace of mind. I want them to know we are here to serve and protect them just like every other Frisco citizen.”
Making a Life
Immigrant families new to Frisco have the world at their fingertips, as they are able to forge new relationships, seek job opportunities, choose their ideal home/neighborhood and begin their new lives. In 2017, more than one third of employers planned to hire immigrant workers. Economists often believe immigration increases both economic output and economic growth rates. Immigrants also significantly increase innovation in the U.S.
In order to work in the U.S. legally, immigrants must obtain a work visa, and types of work visas available for immigrants interested in working in the U.S. depend on individual skills and the extent of one’s education. For example, an EB-1 visa can be obtained by persons of extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business or athletics. An EB-2 visa can be granted to professionals with advanced degrees and qualified alien physicians who will practice medicine in an area of the U.S. An EB-3 visa is designed for skilled workers (minimum two years of training and experience), professionals with bachelor’s degrees and unskilled workers. The EB-4 visa is for special immigrants, including religious workers, employees and former employees of U.S. government abroad and translators with the U.S. Armed Forces. The EB-5 visa is reserved for business investors who invest $1 million or $500,000 (if the investment is made in a targeted employment area) in a new commercial enterprise that employs at least 10 full-time U.S. workers. Individuals may also qualify for green cards or visas for reasons outside of employment. Other green card eligibility categories are through family, as a special immigrant (for religious work, media work, etc.), through refugee or asylum status, for human trafficking and crime and abuse victims and more.
Frisco is blessed with a forward-thinking and proactive Economic Development Corporation (EDC) that houses a Business Retention and Expansion Program that seeks to retain, grow and assist companies as they seek success, while also working with a large number of business assistance agencies that are geared towards workforce enrichment. Frisco residents can find assistance in seeking jobs through a number of avenues including the Workforce Solutions of North Texas, which matches job-seekers with companies looking for specific skill sets, Collin College, which offers more than 100 degree and certification programs, the Small Business Development Center, which provides free business counseling and can assist in grant and loan opportunities and Search 4 U Inc., a site where corporations can post job opportunities for candidates seeking employment. While many legal immigrant families move with jobs already set up, many do not. Resources like these are great places to begin the search.
For legal immigrant families that are not proficient in English, the Frisco Public Library offers an ESL Language Lab for adults where participants learn grammar, pronunciation and conversation on Tuesdays from 6-8 p.m., on the fourth floor in the McCallum Room, through the end of April, and an ESL English Chat for informal English conversation practice on Wednesdays from 1-2:30 p.m., on the fourth floor, in the McCallum Room, through the end of April.
As immigrant families acclimate to life in Frisco, they can plug into the community through their job, their child’s school, a church home and their neighborhood. They might even discover the taste of home at one of Frisco’s many specialty cultural markets. Additionally, many neighborhoods and cultural groups have pages on Facebook that allow them to further plug into their new communities.
“My advice for immigrant families coming to Frisco would be to embrace all this community has to offer,” Ms. Ogbu shares. “There are so many opportunities to flourish here and it is a melting pot of sub-communities. I hope people understand that immigrant families sacrifice so much to give their children a better life. They are not much different than anyone else. The American Dream is alive and well! Behind a culture and accent, immigrants are human beings who work extremely hard to contribute to our greater society.”