Emerging Leaders Report Provides Framework for Navigating Immigration Debate

October 18, 2012
Immigration policy is paralyzed at the federal level and is polarizing communities across the United States. In the absence of federal action, 39 states introduced immigration-related legislation at the local level during the first six months of 2011.

In light of this tension, The Chicago Council on Global Affairs today released a report, Moving Forward: The Immigration Debate and Chicago’s Experience, a volume of seven essays by its 2009 Class of Emerging Leaders. The report identifies the leading dimensions that makes the immigration debate so challenging to resolve and provides a framework for understanding this important policy issue.

The 20 Emerging Leaders who contributed to the report are not all experts on immigration but rather concerned citizens from government, private, and nonprofit sectors who feel strongly that this topic needs urgent attention. Report representatives will present their findings at 6:00 p.m. on October 18, 2011, at the Hotel InterContinental, 505 North Michigan Ave, in Chicago.

The three main findings of the report are 1) that while economic arguments are often cited in the case for or against immigration, data sets and methodologies used are often designed to serve the interest of a vested party, making it difficult to assess immigration’s net impact in the United States—which can span generations—at a macro level, 2) that the diverse origin of today’s immigrants—from Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, and South Asia and elsewhere—has revived concerns among some that American culture is under siege, and 3) in the absence of federal action, local and state actors are increasingly driving immigration policy.

“While most of us believe that in the long term America will continue to benefit from diversity, we recognize that the emotional, cultural, and psychological components of how people define ‘who is an American,’ are just as important to the debate over immigration policy, if not more so, than the economic figures that economists and scholars present,” said Lillian Daniel, senior minister, First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ and member of the program.

 The report also highlights the growing tension between local, state and federal decision-makers over who is responsible for immigration policy and enforcement, particularly in suburban and rural regions that are newer to the immigration experience. 

“One of the factors that makes this so challenging is that the immigration debate can be seen through many lenses—economic, security, cultural, psychological, moral, and local,” said Will Burns, alderman of the City of Chicago’s 4th Ward and member of the program . “Anyone who wants to understand why federal legislation to improve immigration policy has been so difficult to pass needs to account for these multiple components.”

Emerging Leaders presenting the report findings on October 18 include: Barbara Higgins of Allstate Insurance; Paul Christensen of Northwestern University; Anthony Simpkins of the Chicago Department of Housing and Economic Development; and Milena Novy-Marx of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Alejandro Escalona, a contributing columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times and Spanish language weekly La Raza, will serve as a report commentator.

Through their year-long endeavor, the Emerging Leaders came to understand the incredible complexity of these issues. While they may not each agree with every comment made throughout the report, they do agree that these issues deserve closer examination.

“It is their hope, and The Chicago Council’s, that this report can prove helpful to policymakers who have to make tough decisions on immigration legislation, as well as to everyday citizens who want to read beyond the headlines,” said Rachel Bronson, vice president of studies at The Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

The Chicago Council launched the Emerging Leaders Program in 2008 to equip Chicago’s next generation with the tools they will need to help the city thrive in a global era. Emerging Leaders are vetted by an independent committee as leaders in their respective fields, but of whom even greater leadership is expected in the future. Throughout the two-year program, they examine global issues of local relevance, and then choose one issue to develop. Twenty-two individuals were recently selected as the Council’s 2011 Class of Emerging Leaders, and the final project of the Class of 2010 will be released next fall. - See more at: /files/About_Us/Press_Releases/FY12_Releases/111018.aspx#sthash.p9fLZ1yT.dpuf