The latest edition of an annual survey of the 100 largest U.S. cities credits Chicago with creating a welcoming environment for immigrants, putting the city at the top of the list.
The New American Economy (NAE), a bipartisan coalition of mayors and CEOs launched in 2010 by then-New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg and media mogul Rupert Murdoch, revealed the findings on Wednesday morning. They showed that more cities, particularly in the Midwest, are adopting policies that support foreign-born residents, with Chicago at the forefront.
“It really has been leading the way on policy, especially when it comes to immigrant policy,” said Andrew Lim, director for quantitative research at New American Economy.
The survey considers policies that localities enact to protect and support immigrants, such as legal defense funds, language access ordinances and offices specifically tasked with handling immigrant affairs. It also evaluates how well foreign-born residents are doing when compared with U.S.-born residents on a variety of socioeconomic factors, such as income adjusted for education level, poverty rates, home ownership rates and more.
“Chicago actually scored relatively well when it came to socioeconomic outcome in terms of the disparities between immigrants and the U.S.-born,” Lim said. But he said Chicago truly stood out when it came to policy. He pointed to the fact that the city has a language access ordinance, an Office of New Americans, a legal defense fund for immigrants and a municipal ID program.
All of those programs were enacted under former Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel, who is a member of the New American Economy. Lim said that had no bearing on the rankings.
But at least one immigrant community advocate said the methodology masks shortfalls in city policies that purport to help foreign-born residents.
“I do believe there are other cities in specific policy areas that are ahead of us,” said Andy Kang, executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Chicago. “There absolutely were policies … that community groups were looking for more of an active partnership on. And, unfortunately, we weren’t able to get those things done.”
Kang pointed to the city’s language access ordinance, as an example. Per the legislation, city departments are required to provide access to direct public services in several foreign languages. However, Kang says the ordinance has problems.
“One, there’s no significant budget put behind the services,” Kang noted. “Number two, it doesn’t apply to our emergency services, so this would be Chicago police and fire, 911. And it doesn’t apply to [Chicago Public Schools].”
Kang said Washington, D.C. and San Francisco have much more robust language access policies than Chicago.
Further, the City of Chicago Office of Inspector General found that city departments were falling short of complying with the language access ordinance in a 2017 audit.
Lim acknowledged that the methodology behind the NAE survey did not take into account the nuances of policies or how well they were implemented. Neither did it seek input from grassroots voices that work on immigrant issues.
“There is no phonebook for community organizations that would say ‘survey me’ across 100 cities,” Lim said. “So that is something that is a limitation of the data and just the survey itself.”
Odette Yousef is a reporter with WBEZ’s Race, Class and Communities desk. Follow her @oyousef.