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 And they want to understand how the outdated federal immigration system limits their local opportunity, and what they can do about it.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depend on immigrant labor, members of the GQCHCC shared observations about how visa shortages, red tape, and outdated quotas limited their ability to hire the workers they urgently need to fill their ranks: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 Brian Hanson, Douglas J. Feith, Aaron David Miller

Deep Dish: Bibi Netanyahu and the US-Israel Relationship

Prime Minister Netanyahu faces corruption charges ahead of Israel’s election and the subsequent rollout of President Trump’s Mideast peace plan. Douglas J. Feith and Aaron David Miller join Deep Dish to discuss what it all means for US-Israel relations.


| By Brian Hanson, Cameron Munter, Tanvi Madan

Deep Dish: India and Pakistan Clash in Kashmir

Tensions between two nuclear powers have escalated in recent days. Former US Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter and Tanvi Madan of the Brookings Institution explain the brinkmanship.


| By Madeleine Nicholson

Sustainable Food Systems: A View from the Midwest

Today, there are nearly 8 billion people on the planet, meaning nearly 8 billion people in need of daily nutritional sustenance. This presents new challenges that threaten our fragile global food system.


| By John Austin

Global Engagement Key Driver of Midwest Prosperity

The Midwest was America’s first frontier, then the foundation of the country’s agricultural and industrial might. It was the birthplace of great industries and a mecca for migrants seeking a better life and new economic opportunity. As the region forged America’s middle class, much of its success resulted from robust global engagement through trade, immigration, and partnerships.


Wait Just a Minute: Lesley Lokko

In our this episode, architect and novelist Lesley Lokko explains urbanism, the importance of culture in cities, and how architecture contributes to a city's culture.



| By Brian Hanson, Lynda Obst, Orville Schell

Deep Dish: China's Blockbuster Influence in Hollywood

The 91st Academy Awards take place on Sunday in Los Angeles, but international markets, led by China, have eclipsed the domestic market in importance for the US movie industry, rewriting the rules about what kinds of films get made.


| By Ivo H. Daalder

Deep Divisions Across the Atlantic

Returning from the annual Munich Security Conference in Germany, Council President Ivo Daalder concludes that both sides of the transatlantic relationship have given up even pretending that the relationship is strong.