Immigration crackdowns and rhetoric from the current administration are making immigrants feel less welcome in many parts of the US and causing alarm with immigration lawyers. But some US cities are defying federal mandates and welcoming immigrants with immigrant-friendly programs and policies.
The New York Immigration Coalition and the international money transfer platform Transferwise have created an index of America's best and worst cities for immigrants. The index is based on ranking cities for nine key criteria including cost of living, sanctuary city status, immigrant ID programs and minimum wage.
Here are the 10 best US cities for immigrants based on the index:
10. Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Milwaukee offers immigrants an attractive, low cost of living and universal preschool along with a rare municipal ID program that allows immigrants to access services regardless of immigration status.
Like the other highly ranked cities named on the list, Milwaukee limits law enforcement cooperation with ICE and refuses to honor ICE's non-legally binding requests to detain immigrants in many scenarios.
9. Los Angeles, California
Los Angeles has the 2nd highest immigrant concentration on the list with its' 38% immigrant population. California is a very immigrant friendly state taking 7 of the top 20 cities in the US.
Los Angeles has universal preschool and a high $12/hour minimum wage which is much higher than the US median of $8.15. California also enacted a "sanctuary state" bill in October 2017 that limits cooperation between local officials and federal immigration officers.
8. Boston, Massachusetts
Boston has a long history of being welcoming to immigrants and the city has sanctuary city status. A recently enacted $11/hour minimum wage, universal preschool and affordable mass transit options round out the attractive immigration friendly public services.
7. Seattle, Washington
Seattle's population is nearly 20% immigrant and the city is eager to lend immigrants a helping hand. Seattle's Ready to Work program combines English as a Second Language (ESL) classes with computer literacy instruction & dedicated case managers to help immigrants gain job readiness skills and move toward economic self-sufficiency. The US Department of Labor has identifed this innovative program as a best practice example of how to magnify employment funding to help integrate immigrants into the labor workforce.
6. Baltimore, Maryland
Baltimore has been working diligently to make itself welcoming for immigrants. Prior Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake set an ambitious target to increase the city's population by 10,000 new families over a decade, focusing primarily on attracting immigrants.
Baltimore enacted a policy prohibiting police and other officials from asking residents about immigration status. And the city introduced a bill for official government ID cards in 2016. ID cards are an important issue for immigrants since they affect access to bank accounts and government services. Having no id also increases fear and makes immigrants less likely to call police when needed.
5. Washington D.C.
Our nation’s capital is a popular destination for immigrants with an immigrant population exceeding 14%, of which 40% are naturalized citizens.
4. San Jose, California
From it's place in Silicon Valley, San Jose’s Office of Immigrant Affairs works to engage and welcome immigrants. The city speaks proudly of aspiring to be a world-famous, multi-cultural city.
To further this goal, San Jose has been steadily rolling out innovative programs and campaigns designed to assist immigrants over the last several years. Santa Clara County has even pledged to allocate $1.5 million for legal aid to assist immigrants facing deportation. The city also started a program in 2017 to educate immigrants of their rights and ease restrictions to allow churches to provide sanctuary for undocumented residents if there are deportation sweeps.
3. New York, New York
New York has a special place in world history for it's role in proudly welcoming immigrants into the United States. While NYC has a high cost of living and expensive transportation, it surges ahead of many other cities due to it's immigrant-friendly city programs and policies.
New York is known as an immigration trail-blazer with the nation's largest municipal ID program, investments in legal services and welcoming language access policies. Virtually every immigrant ethnic group is well represented in the city's many neighborhoods. NYC also limits how its law enforcement agencies cooperate with ICE.
2. Chicago, Illinois
Chicago shares many traits with New York, including a municipal ID program, universal preschool and a high minimum wage. And Chicago has a lower cost of living than NYC. Chicago has even launched an innovative public campaign to welcome immigrants and direct them to citizenship information, legal help and mental healthcare.
1. San Francisco, California
San Francisco achieved high scores on all nine ranking criteria except for it's cost of living which is 62% higher than the US average. Home prices have surged due to the booming technology industry and startups.
San Francisco met all other immigrant criteria including sanctuary city status, municipal IDs and even an Office of Civic Engagement and Immigrant Affairs. San Francisco public transportation is affordable and the city's high school graduation rates are higher than Chicago and New York.
Index ranking methodology
"We analyzed 9 criteria under the categories of affordability, education, and government support to score the 50 most populated U.S cities, using over 180 different sources that included the U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and multiple news pieces and local government sites. Each criteria is scored on a 1-4 point scale, which we assigned by yes/no responses (yes - 4, no - 1) or percentile ranks for quantifiable data (25th percentile - 1, 50th percentile - 2, etc.). Once the criteria was scored, we assigned a weight depending on the category’s importance. For example, anything related to government policy is weighted heaviest, since the government’s job to represent, support, and protect all Americans is a crucial factor for immigrants. Once weights were assigned, we tallied each city’s score to determine their rankings.
We identified nine key factors that inform how welcoming a city is to immigrants:
Self-declaration as a "Sanctuary City"
Detainer policies in place, specifically a policy in place that refuses to honor or limits ICE compliance
Office of Immigrant Affairs/New Americans
Access to municipal ID program
Affordable public transit
Average cost of living
High school graduation rates"