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Poloncarz hopes 'New Americans' panel will be ready by June

WBFO file photo

The search is underway for panelists to join a committee being formed by the Erie County Executive to address language and cultural gaps among the region's various immigrant populations, as members of those populations adapt to life as new U.S. citizens or continue their path toward citizenship.Generations ago, it was an influx of immigrants including the Germans, Irish, Italians and Poles who came to America and shaped the Buffalo and Western New York region. In more recent years, people have come from nations in Africa, Asia and the Middle East to Western New York in search of the American dream, or as refugees escaping politically hostile governments.

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz says the newer waves of immigrants - or "New Americans" as he calls them - are showing that they, too, are contributing to the community.

"People are coming to build a better life and they are doing it," said Poloncarz to WBFO. "It's becoming a success story and that's why more and more immigrants are coming here, because they know they can succeed. If they came here and failed, the word would get out pretty quickly, 'don't come to Buffalo,' or 'don't come to Erie County.' But they're coming here and succeeding."

But many have not easily been able to acclimate to their new surroundings. Last month, Poloncarz announced the formation of what is called the New Americans Advisory Committee to bring representatives of the various immigrant communities forward and work with government to determine how to ensure people within those communities are being served as they transition into U.S. citizenship.

Language is among the most obvious barriers but there are also come cultural differences that Poloncarz need to be explored and addressed.

"Some of the things, you don't think about," he said. "Individuals who come here, who may live on the West Side of Buffalo, see Lake Erie and the Niagara River and they go fish their daily for their own sustenance for their family. We have to advise them, you'll have to limit the amount of intake you'll have on fish from Lake Erie because of the potential damage it may cause long term, because some of the fish here still contains contaminants from the water."

Poloncarz tells WBFO some candidates for the panel have come forward while the search for other suitable members is underway. He is hoping to have the committee in place as early as June, or no later than early July.

Erie County, according to the most recent census figures, has witnessed a small but steady population increase over the past four years. The region's more recent immigrants have played a significant part in that trend, the County Executive said.

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.