Ready or Not? New Report Gauges Midwest Prep for Proposed Immigration Action

March 23, 2015
States in the Midwest are not uniformly prepared to implement immigration policies advanced by President Obama, potentially jeopardizing $650 million in additional tax revenues for their cash-strapped governments, according to a new report by The Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

In fact, Midwestern states have much to gain from successful implementation of the President’s executive action.  Full participation from an estimated 579,000 eligible undocumented residents in the Midwest region could generate $652.3 million in tax revenues over the next five years.  Illinois alone stands to increase its tax revenues by $347 million based on an estimated 281,000 eligible undocumented residents.[1] 

The report highlights actions and opportunities that state and city government agencies, immigrant-serving nonprofits and legal service providers could adopt and embrace to ensure they are poised to support applications from hundreds of thousands of undocumented workers eligible for the President’s Expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA).  Specifically, the report notes structural and other limitations that could compromise states’ ability to realize potential tax revenues from newly legal workers.  Some of The Chicago Council findings include that:
  • Nearly half – 288,000 – of eligible Midwesterners are dispersed outside of concentrated immigrant communities in diffuse, harder-to-reach areas.
  • Limited resources could mean an average load of more than 800 cases per legal aid organization across the region.
  • A large volume of requests for documentary evidence for applications will test the capacity of public and private entities.
  • Families with multiple applicants seeking eligibility may face challenges in paying application fees, estimated at nearly $500 per person. 
  • Immigrants not familiar with the procedures and proposed immigration policy may fall prey to fraud or exploitation for unscrupulous financial gain.
“While various legal and budgetary developments pose challenges to President Obama’s executive actions, it is critical that the Midwest continue to prepare rigorously for implementation of these programs that allow communities to maximize the economic contributions of their immigrant communities,” said report author Rebecca Carson, principal at Star Immigration Strategies.  “Previous large-scale immigration legalization efforts, along with examples of successful programs already in place in multiple Midwestern communities, offer blueprints for maximizing potential gains to states offered by the program.”

​Illinois is among the states that are taking progressive steps to prepare for and collaborate effectively to respond to the challenges of implementing the executive action, including by forming cross-sector planning committees of stakeholders.  Anchored by the melting pot of Chicago, Illinois is home to the fourth-largest undocumented immigrant population in the nation. 

Other states have begun implementing similar measures, including coalition building and holding information sessions. 

The undocumented population grew in every state in the Midwest between the 1990s and the 2000s; the region gained more than 1 million undocumented immigrants between 1990 and 2010.[2]  Many of the individuals eligible for these new programs – especially adults who are older and out of school – may be less integrated into their communities than were the youth eligible for the original DACA program in 2012, underscoring the need for service providers to prepare in advance.

Though there is not one perfect model, The Chicago Council on Global Affairs report argues that state and local governments, as well as non-government stakeholders, can learn from best practices being implemented throughout the region, many of which are highlighted in the report.

“While the executive action on immigration has drawn controversy and challenge, it is critical that states focus on the practical aspects of a potential program with significant economic promise,” said Michele Wucker, vice president of studies at The Chicago Council on Global Affairs. “Immigrants to the Midwest and their families have much to gain if their states succeed in implementing these new programs. So do their communities and the Heartland as a whole.”

This report has been made possible by the generous support of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

[1] Data drawn from the Center for American Progress and the Migration Policy Institute
[2] Data drawn from the Pew Charitable Trust   



Laura Lucas Magnuson