November 23, 2015 | By Sara McElmurry

Immigration—on the Banks of the Mississippi

<a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/smcgee/308654942/" target="_blank">Flickr/smcgee</a>

I recently visited a Midwestern community where 40 languages are spoken in the public schools, immigrants were behind 100 percent of the population growth over the last decade, and a local mayor has recently spoken out for immigrant and refugee rights. 

The community wasn’t Chicago, Minneapolis, or St. Louis—big cities with long histories as global entry points for immigrants.

Rather, it was the Quad Cities, with a population of 380,000 that straddles both sides of the Mississippi.

The communities of Davenport, Bettendorf, Rock Island, Moline, and East Moline (yes, there are actually five Quad Cities), have faded a bit since the boom days of river-based industry and manufacturing—and they’ve also gotten a little grayer, given that nearly a third of the population is age 55-plus. The metro area, like so many in the stagnating Midwest, would have registered a population loss at the 2010 Census, had it not been for the arrival of 3,000-plus immigrants.

Immigration once was associated only with large metropolitan gateways. But the effects of global migration and demographic change are now a reality—and opportunity—in smaller, previously homogenous communities across the country.

Local business communities like my host, the 200-member-strong Greater Quad Cities Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (GQCHCC), realize that revitalizing their economies means maximizing the contributions of all of residents, regardless of their country of origin. They recognize that foreign-born workers—most of whom are working age—are one antidote to their aging local labor force. They embrace demographic change and celebrate the contributions of the region’s growing Latino population. And they want to understand how the outdated federal immigration system limits their local opportunity, and what they can do about it.

Coming from sectors that increasingly depend on immigrant labor, members of the GQCHCC shared observations about how visa shortages, red tape, and outdated quotas limited their ability to hire the workers they urgently need to fill their ranks:
  • Local agriculture employs thousands in crop production and corporate agribusiness alike—John Deere’s World Headquarters is just blocks away from chamber offices—but still faces gaps of up to 30 percent in its labor supply.
  • Health care depends on immigrant workers in jobs ranging from home care aids to physicians and surgeons. It also faces acute shortages in the Quad Cities as native-born medical students flock to practice in coastal cities.
  • Local colleges bring thousands of bright international students to the Quad Cities each year—yet the region has no way to retain these highly-educated graduates once they finish their studies.
  • Immigrant entrepreneurs have revitalized the Quad Cities’ main streets with family-owned shops and restaurants—but the lack of a startup visa limits broader opportunity for would-be business owners.
With new speaker of the house Paul Ryan confirming that his chamber won’t take up immigration reform until at least 2017, the Midwest call to action around immigration is even more urgent today than when the Chicago Council on Global Affairs convened a regional task force to build consensus on the issue nearly three years ago.

Today, Midwestern leaders are filling the gap created by the federal stalemate on this issue, launching city, state, and metro-level welcoming initiatives in communities from Detroit to Dayton to Dodge City. These programs attract newcomers, support immigrant entrepreneurs, and celebrate cultural diversity.

The GQCHCC convening was an important step in bringing Midwestern momentum around this issue to the Quad Cities. If the community can fully maximize the opportunity presented by 3,000 new residents and 40 world languages, it can set the bar for what “immigrant friendly” should look like in the Heartland.
 

About

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. We convene leading global voices and conduct independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is an independent, nonpartisan organization. All statements of fact and expressions of opinion in blog posts are the sole responsibility of the individual author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Council.

Archive

| By Ivo H. Daalder

This Week's Reads: The US-China Escalation Problem

"As in real wars, so in trade wars, once you start shooting in all directions, it becomes difficult to know what you’re aiming for or when it is time to stop," writes Council President Ivo Daalder. Following the latest round of escalatory drama in the US-China trade war, Daalder considers the Trump administrations's end goal in This Week's Reads.


#AskIvo: How Does 'The Empty Throne' Affect US Alliances?

"Will the current administration have long-term effects on US alliances and influence, or do you believe there can be a course correction?" Council President Ivo Daalder shares his response in this edition of #AskIvo. Be sure to submit your question for the next episode to @IvoHDaalder using #AskIvo.



Wait Just a Minute: Edward Glaeser

Urban economist and Harvard professor Edward Glaeser shares ideas about the biggest opportunities and challenges facing cities and what cities can do to ensure economic growth and inspire innovation.


| By Iain Whitaker

Global Affairs Books For The Fall

Every June Book Expo America brings the nation’s publishing houses together with book wholesalers, retailers, and marketers in New York. The event provides an opportunity to collect an unwieldy amount of free as-yet-unpublished books (pro tip: they’re not really free if you end up paying for an extra checked bag).



| By Ivo H. Daalder

This Week’s Reads: Summer Rewind

In August, I took a hiatus from This Week’s Reads to focus on my upcoming book that will be released in October. Of course, the pressing global issues of our time–from Brexit to climate change, North Korea to immigration–experienced no complementary interlude. Below is a compilation of mostly long-form articles from the past month that are worth perusing. The topics they touch upon will, undoubtedly, remain relevant through the changing seasons ahead.


| By Brian Hanson, Laura Dawson, Duncan Wood

Deep Dish: There’s a New NAFTA in Town

Mexico and the United States announced a preliminary new NAFTA agreement early this week, which is now pending Canada's approval. Experts join the podcast to discuss the deal's substance and it's chances of being ratified before a number of deadlines.


| By Karen Weigert

Wait Just a Minute: Karen Weigert

Our new web series, Wait Just a Minute, asks experts to answer complex questions about global affairs in 60 seconds. In this episode, our senior global cities fellow, and former chief sustainability officer for the city of Chicago, Karen Weigert answers questions on climate change.


| By Brian Hanson, Steven Cook, Steven Cook, Henri Barkey

Deep Dish: The Turkish Lira Crisis

The Turkish currency crisis was started by a mix of domestic policy decisions and intensifying tariffs from the United States. Experts join the podcast to examine how Turkey got here, and if it will impact other countries' economies. 


Wait Just a Minute: Eliot Cohen

Our new web series, Wait Just a Minute, asks experts to answer complex questions about global affairs in 60 seconds. In this episode, military historian and author Eliot Cohen answers questions in just 60 seconds about the international order,  America First, and US alliances.