Half of the states have joined a lawsuit challenging President Obama’s executive action on immigration, the latest being Tennessee. Yet leadership of cities across the nation support the administration’s actions—even those within states whose governors and attorneys general are suing to stop it. What explains the disconnect?
It seems the higher-up the elected official, the more cut off they are from what is happening on the ground in communities where real people live and work. For mayors and local elected officials however, the economic benefits of immigration are not lost on them. In fact, they are doing all they can to boost their potential. Here are the ways and reasons why locals are working to maximize rather than minimize the contributions of immigrants:
- Local leadership in many of the states litigating against executive actions have actually come out in support of it as a first step toward meaningful immigration reform. A growing coalition of mayors and cities launched Cities United for Immigration Action in early December with almost 50 cities involved, including Atlanta, Georgia; Phoenix, Arizona; Tampa, Florida; Columbus and Dayton, Ohio; Austin and Houston, Texas; Salt Lake City, Utah; Madison, Wisconsin; and many cities in Michigan, including Detroit. “In Atlanta, the economic and social contributions of immigrants continue to strengthen our city’s cultural fabric, economic growth and global competitiveness,” Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said. “As a city and a nation, we are stronger when we embrace and support the diversity and vitality of immigrant populations.”
- Cities in states suing over immigration executive action are pursuing broader welcoming and immigrant integration initiatives. Welcoming America’s Welcoming Cities and Counties initiative now has around 45 municipal affiliates—half of which are in states challenging executive action. In these municipalities, innovative leaders are pursuing collaborative economic, social, and cultural immigrant integration strategies through innovative community partnerships. Additionally, at the National Immigrant Integration Conference, 11 cities announced they are joining New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles in the Cities for Citizenship campaign, a national initiative working to increase citizenship among eligible permanent residents.
- Immigrants have contributed to growth, or have helped stave off decline, in many of the states suing over executive action. A new report from the Pew Charitable Trusts maps the geography of native- and foreign-born population change at the county level across the U.S. from 1990 to 2012. In many counties, immigrants contribute to growth, particularly in the case of the Sun Belt South, Mountain West, and Pacific Northwest regions. In Middle America, including portions of the Great Plains and the Midwest, immigrants have helped fend off decline. And again, many of these counties are in states challenging executive action even though they’ve benefited from immigration.
Ultimately, cities and metropolitan areas are the population centers and economic drivers of states and regions. City governments are the closest level of government to the on-the-ground reality of immigration. And in many regions, immigrants either contribute to growth or help ward off decline. “More and more, our cities are changing demographically—a phenomenon that’s not surprising in our increasingly global economy,” Rachel Peric of Welcoming America said. “What we’ve learned is that cities that intentionally plan for demographic change and focus on becoming more inclusive can reap economic benefits.” State Governors and Attorneys Generals involved in the ongoing dispute should consult with pragmatic leaders in local places who can show them the smart way forward.