This is the most immigrant-friendly city in America, new report says

CHICAGO — Midwestern cities are leading the nation in providing opportunities to immigrant communities, and Chicago’s setting the standard, according to a report released Wednesday.

New American Economy, a bipartisan research group dedicated to comprehensive immigration reform, released its second-annual Cities Index, which assesses how well the 100 largest cities are supporting immigrants. This year, Chicago ranked number one, followed by Chula Vista, Cali.; Jersey City; and San Francisco.

“We are tremendously proud Chicago has been named the most welcoming city in America for immigrants and refugees,” Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in a statement. “This ranking reflects the passionate and dedicated work of countless public officials and community members across our city who have come together to stand up and fight for the rights of our immigrant and refugee communities, no matter the cost.”

Michael Bloomberg, Rupert Murdoch and other corporate executives launched New American Economy in 2010 as a coalition dedicated to reframing immigration reform as the solution to repairing and stimulating the American economy. The group aims to secure the borders and prevent illegal immigration, create more opportunities for immigrants to join the U.S. workforce and build a path to legal status for all undocumented immigrants.

The group’s annual index uses 51 factors to determine how well cities are creating environments that help immigrants succeed, including a city’s language access policies, employment and homeownership rates and more.

Andrew Lim, Director of Quantative Research at New American Economy, said that Chicago came out on top this year because the city has created an inclusive legal environment and has taken up policies supporting undocumented immigrants and DACA recipients. Like other major cities, however, Chicago came up short on providing access to affordable housing and income equality.

Immigrants make up more than one-fifth of Chicago’s population, according to city estimates. In 2016, immigrants held nearly a quarter of the spending power among the city’s residents, earned nearly $17 billion in household income, and paid $6 billion in taxes in 2016. That year, nearly 20,000 DACA-eligible individuals were living in Chicago.

The Windy City has long considered itself a safe haven of immigrant communities. In 2016, then-mayor Rahm Emanuel declared Chicago a sanctuary city, later challenging the Trump administration’s attempt to deny sanctuary cities federal funding. In recent years, the city has implemented a new legal protection fund and launched a task force to coordinate policies affecting immigrants and refugees.

“We’re glad to see that Chicago is ahead of the curve, which is due in large part to the immigrant community members who have fought hard to make the city more welcoming. Now, with a new mayor, we have a new opportunity to further solidify the progress that cities are making for immigrant communities across the country,” said Lawrence Benito, Executive Director of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.

Chicago isn’t the only Midwestern city making big strides in developing policies that support immigrants. Cleveland, Milwaukee and Toledo were among the cities whose scores improved the most from last year.

“Midwestern cities are really proactive on this issue,” Lim said. “A lot of that has to do with their own economic development plans. A lot of cities in the Midwest have struggled with population loss, so they’re really encouraging people to stay in these cities or to come from afar to help them bounce back.”

Medium-to-large-size cities in the South and near the border — such as Chula Vista, located in the San Diego metro area — are also seeing policy improvements as immigrants and non-immigrants alike flock to cheaper housing and job opportunities, Lim said.

In smaller cities such as Jacksonville, Fla., Norfolk, Va., and St. Petersburg, Fla., the researchers reported smaller gaps in homeownership rates, health insurance rates and educational attainment rates between immigrants and people born in the U.S.

Researchers said many of the top cities had implemented policies aimed at welcoming immigrants. Dozens have an office for immigrant affairs, and more than half run or support entrepreneurship programs that cater to immigrants. Others have issued municipal identification cards to increase immigrants’ access to social services, established legal defense funds for immigrants facing deportation, and provided services that guide immigrants through the naturalization process.

Lim said the idea of an index first arose out of a desire to create a “universal yardstick” that cities could use to understand how their policies compared to those of other cities.

“Often times, the question would come up — how do we compare to other cities? What are our peer cities doing?” Lim said. “We created this index to help local actors and policymakers have an idea of where they stand.”

Here are the top 24 cities of this year’s index:

  1. Chicago, IL
  2. Chula Vista, CA
  3. Jersey City, NJ
  4. San Francisco, CA
  5. Baltimore, MD
  6. New York, NY
  7. Anaheim, CA / Newark, NJ / San Jose, CA (tied)
  8. Los Angeles, CA / Portland, OR (tied)
  9. Philadelphia, PA
  10. Washington, D.C.
  11. Cleveland, OH
  12. Cincinnati, OH / Greensboro, NC / San Diego, CA (tied)
  13. Seattle, WA
  14. Detroit, MI
  15. Fremont, CA / Riverside, CA / Sacramento, CA (tied)
  16. Irvine, CA
  17. Albuquerque, NM / Milwaukee, WI / Oakland, CA (tied)

*story by USA Today