Chicago ranked most welcoming city to immigrants, despite hurdles

People at Chicago's Immigration Office, 1975. (courtesy of the Chicago History Museum—Sun Times Collection)

By Seb Peltekian
Medill Reports

Chicago is the most welcoming city for immigrants in the country, according to the latest Cities Index of the New American Economy,  an immigration advocacy and reform organization.

“Chicago has a very pro-immigrant posture, which no doubt is to the benefit of the people we serve. Our local and state government bodies have been supportive,” said Peter Zigterman, director of World Relief Chicago, agreeing with Cities Index rating released in November. World Relief Chicago is the local office of World Relief, an international non-profit which helps immigrants adjust to life in their new country.

New American Economy’s rating for Chicago is due to policies and socioeconomic factors, according to the Cities Index report, earning a 5 out of 5 rating for how law enforcement agencies treat immigrants. Chicago is a sanctuary city that will not disclose immigration status information to authorities such as ICE and doesn’t “deny you City services based on your immigration status,” according to Chicago’s website.

Immigrants have played a crucial role in the development of Chicago throughout its history. In 1900, 75% of the city’s population was foreign born or the children of immigrants. According to Brittany Hutchinson, an assistant curator and historian at the Chicago History Museum, “So much of the city’s industrial activity and development was supported by immigrant communities that came to the city for work.”

“The beginnings of the city itself and how we understand it and its history is rooted in immigrant labor, immigrant work, immigrant lives and immigrant stories,” she added.

However, the Trump administration, long time immigration hardliners, has recently ramped up attacks on immigration and the cities that host undocumented immigrants.

“We will consider taking action against any jurisdiction that, or any politician who, unlawfully obstructs the federal enforcement of immigration law,” Attorney General William Barr said earlier this month, acccording to CNN.

This could include sanctuary cities, Barr indicated.

President Trump directly attacked sanctuary cities during his Feb. 4 State of the Union speech. “In sanctuary cities local officials order police to release dangerous criminal aliens to prey upon the public, instead of handing them over to ICE to be safely removed,” he said.

On Jan. 31, the president signed an executive order which expanded the controversial 2017 travel ban to include six more countries — Nigeria, Myanmar, Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Sudan and Tanzania.

The 2017 order bars individuals from specific countries from entering the U.S. without valid documents or visas. Of the seven countries covered by the ban, five are Muslim majority countries — Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen. Opponents have labeled this the “Muslim ban” and claim it is unconstitutional as a result.

The two non-Muslim majority countries covered by the ban are North Korea and Venezuela, although, in the case of Venezuela, it only extends to certain officials and their families.

Storefronts on Lawrence Avenue in Albany Park showcase  a multicultural neighborhood. Albany Park is home to Latin American, Middle Eastern, South and East Asian, Eastern European and other immigrant communities. (Seb Peltekian/MEDILL)

On Jan. 27, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announced in a press release that the House Judiciary Committee will introduce the NO BAN Act “to prohibit religious discrimination in our immigration system and limit the President’s ability to impose such biased and bigoted restrictions.”

The most recent legal hurdle to the travel ban came on Jan. 28, when a federal appeals court in Virginia heard from individuals with family members who couldn’t enter the United States due to the ban. The appeals court was set to hear whether a federal judge in Maryland had mistakenly refused to dismiss the lawsuit, according to Associated Press.

A ruling has not been publicized.

The Supreme Court of the United States last upheld the ban in 2018.

The travel ban, and other legislation passed by the Trump administration, such as the detention and deportation of migrants and their families, has affected Chicago’s immigrant communities and those who work with them.

“The larger overall national trend which certainly affects Chicago is that the president sets the number of refugees that the United States lets in each year and that number is currently at 18,000 as compared to 110,000 as recently as 2016. So from a refugee perspective there just simply are not as many refugees coming” here, said Zigterman, director of World Relief Chicago

Photo at top: People wait at Chicago’s Immigration Office in 1975. (Courtesy of the Chicago History Museum/Sun-Times Collection)