May 14, 2012; Source: Jersey Journal

For those of us with on-the-ground experience in Hudson County, N.J. (full disclosure: I was a city department director there during the latter half of the 1980s), it is sad to see that the International Institute of New Jersey is in financial trouble after losing $800,000 in government funding, $46,000 behind in its office rent, and, according to its executive director, “focusing on our strengths to see how we can survive.” Providing services to immigrants since 1918, the International Institute didn’t give the impression of being like the newer advocacy-oriented immigrant rights organizations, but was a service provider to help immigrants with their transition into American society.

The International Institute’s location in Jersey City is important because the second largest city in New Jersey—in fact, all of Hudson County, including adjacent Hoboken and Bayonne—has been a significant portal for immigrants coming to America for decades. Remember that Ellis Island, where many immigrants first stepped on U.S. soil, is partly in Jersey City and physically closer to Jersey City’s Liberty Park than it is to Manhattan. Turn-of-the-century Hudson County became a critical entry point for immigrants (especially as Hoboken became the home of the North German Lloyd Lines, the Hamburg American Lines, and the Holland American Lines) and attracted a huge influx of German immigrants. Over the years, the county became a focal point for many immigrant populations, making Hudson County one of the most racially and ethnically diverse counties in the United States.

Modern Hudson County includes the nation’s second largest concentration of Cuban immigrants in and around Union City, significant Puerto Rican populations (not formally immigrants because they are U.S. citizens) in downtown Jersey City, a longtime Filipino population along Grove Street in Jersey City (prompting city fathers to dub it “Manila Avenue”), and significant presences of other ethnic and racial groups. In 2000, for example, Jersey City had the second- highest Arab proportion of its population in the nation among cities of more than 100,000. In the 2010 Census, Hudson County had a Hispanic population of 42.2 percent, compared to 17.7 percent for all of New Jersey (the latter would be a much lower number if Hudson County’s Latino population were subtracted from the state’s). It also had a foreign-born population of 40.6 percent, exactly twice the foreign-born proportion of New Jersey as a whole.

When people talk about the American melting pot, in some ways, they are describing Hudson County, New Jersey. In many instances, the new members of the melting pot need not just advocacy, but targeted services to help them transition into a society that in some instances is not always all that welcoming. The International Institute of New Jersey was one of those nonprofit providers of transitional services to new immigrants. It is a function that suits the nonprofit sector and should be preserved, protected, and supported.—Rick Cohen