Local Governments Filling the Gap on Immigration Reform

September 23, 2014
​Despite the absence of federal action on immigration, local government  initiatives across the Midwest are encouraging new growth, building community and harnessing the contributions of immigrants, according to a new report released today by The Chicago Council on Global Affairs and the American Immigration Council. The report comes at the close of National Welcoming Week (September 13-21), a series of events across the country that highlight contributions of immigrants to American communities and brings together immigrants and native-born community members.

Reimagining the Midwest: Immigration Initiatives and the Capacity of Local Leadership, is the first report of its kind to focus exclusively on the Midwest region and represents an extensive review of the vast array of immigrant integration initiatives at the state, municipal, metropolitan, and civic levels. The report highlights initiatives that are fostering immigrant entrepreneurs, passing integration ordinances, promoting civic engagement, evaluating economic impact, providing education resources, and celebrating cultural diversity, among other efforts. It urges leaders to:
  1. Think creatively about opportunities for local action despite federal inaction around immigration reform.  
  2. Leverage community institutions and the private sector to maximize resources.
  3. Foster inclusive metro-wide and regional collaboration, recognizing that communities and neighborhoods are interconnected.

“The level of action here in the Midwest is indicative of a remarkable shift in rhetoric from previous years,” says Juliana Kerr, a co-author of the paper and director of The Chicago Council’s work on immigration. “To be fair, however, the Midwest does have examples of restrictive policies and there is still much more that can be done.”

The report acknowledges that while immigration reform needs to be conducted at a federal level, local initiatives can work to increase immigrant integration at the community level, whatever the shape federal reform ultimately takes.

“The Midwest provides excellent examples of how regional, state and local entities can implement effective strategies that both integrate immigrants and foster economic development,” says report co-author Paul McDaniel, research fellow at the American Immigration Council.

The report authors, local initiatives featured in the report, and others will participate in a Twitter chat about report findings on Tuesday, September 24, at 2:00 p.m. CDT. Follow @ChicagoCouncil, @ImmCouncil and #midwestimmigration to join the conversation.

Generous support for this report was provided by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. This report builds on previous Chicago Council reports on immigration, including US Economic Competitiveness at Risk: A Midwest Call to Action on Immigration Reform, a February 2014 survey that found Midwestern business leaders support immigration reform, May 2013 survey that found public impressions of immigration flows are exaggerated, and a December 2012 survey that found informed Midwesterners are more likely to support immigration reform.  

Midwest-focused reports from the American Immigration Council, which also provided a foundation for this report, include Revitalization in the Heartland of America: Welcoming Immigrant Entrepreneurs for Economic Development, Immigrant Entrepreneurs, Innovation, and Welcoming Initiatives by State, and The Economic and Political Impact of Immigrants, Latinos, and Asians State by State.