- Cities value immigrant populations even when States pass anti-immigration laws.
Nearly everyone has heard about attempts by states like Arizona and Alabama to adopt laws that are unfriendly to immigrants. This is in part because the Supreme Court this year made the news when it struck down parts of Arizona’s immigration law as unconstitutional. Other states have been eyeing developments in this area with great interest.
Surprisingly, however, major cities across the country do not share the views of their state legislators. Just this week a City Council committee in Los Angeles announced plans to issue private, municipal identification cards that may help immigrants access services that require government-issued identification. This was after the city agreed to stop handing over undocumented immigrants to federal authorities in most cases, and after the city ceased impounding the vehicles of those driving without a license.
This summer, closer to where I practice, economic development officials released a report by a local economist that concluded St Louis needs more immigrants. Not only does St Louis have one of the lowest ratios of immigrants to native born residents of any major metropolitan area (just above 4 percent to the average of 20 percent), had our immigrant population kept pace with other major cities, our region’s total income would be around ten percent higher right now. The report surprised some by explaining that immigrants to St Louis are about sixty-percent more likely to start a business here. Through release of this report, St Louis and its business community have solidly aligned themselves with pro-immigrant forces (like most major cities and corporations in the United States).
So why the discrepancy between the anti-immigrant legislators and pro-immigrant metropolitan governments? Immigrants have always settled in cities, so cities have direct experience with this aspect of the American dream. City dwellers see the benefits of entrepreneurial immigrants and reap the rewards in many areas of their lives. Rural residents hardly know any immigrants and are more likely to view them as a threat to jobs and their way of life. Cities are about change. The countryside is about tradition.
Few could have predicted the major role that cities are now playing in the high-stakes political game that is modern immigration policy. If all politics are local, it is only a matter of time before the nation’s history of welcoming immigrants becomes its future. Efforts by cities to encourage immigration, or as in the case of Los Angeles, to actively ameliorate barriers immigrants face, may just be what is needed to turn the tide back to a more moderate approach to immigration, or better yet, become the foundation for comprehensive immigration reform nationwide.