Chicago Opens Office of New Americans
Recognizing immigrants as an important political constituency.
More American mayors are recognizing that supporting immigrants is essential to the economic health of their cities. In the summer of 2011, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced plans to open an Office of New Americans to achieve that aim.
“Chicago’s vitality has been built on the strength of immigrant populations that have come to enjoy new freedoms and access new opportunities,” said Mayor Emanuel in a press release. “I want to make Chicago the most immigrant-friendly city in the world.”
To do this, the office will act as a hub to connect immigrants to existing services from the city, community organizations, private institutions and schools; it will also develop partnerships between them. Some of the efforts include encouraging more immigrant parent engagement with the school system; promoting US citizenship; creating a ‘centralized language access policy’ for Chicago; increasing access to city, state and federal programs for community organizations; and support the Illinois DREAM Act to allow immigrant students to have access to funds to attend college.
Led from within the mayor’s office, it will also include an emphasis on the role of immigrant entrepreneurs as immigrants are 50% more likely to start a new business than other members of the community.
Mayor Emanuels’s ambitious stand on immigration reform has already resulted in two major steps forward. The city’s new Welcoming City Ordinance builds on the vision of Chicago as the most welcoming city in the country by incorporating basic protections for undocumented Chicagoans. At the same time the new Chicago New Americans Initiative will directly assist 10,000 immigrants gain citizenship in what the Mayor’s Office calls the “most comprehensive municipal effort in the country.”
Since 2005, the state of Illinois has also had its own Office of New Americans. Other cities with similar offices include New York, Boston, Los Angeles and Houston.