Originally Published in The Hill
Ruth Ellen Wasem - August 23, 2020
Despite the shrill anti-immigrant rhetoric coming from the White House and certain right-wing groups, more than two-thirds of Americans state that current immigration levels are fine (36 percent) or should be increased (34 percent). As of June 2020, only 28 percent of those Gallup surveyed said immigration should be decreased, the smallest response since Gallup began asking the question in 1965.
President Trump’s distaste for immigrant inclusion stands in sharp contrast to his immediate predecessors, Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. In 2006, President Bush established the Task Force on New Americans, led by the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), as “an interagency initiative to help immigrants learn English, embrace the common core of American civic culture, and fully become American.” President Obama elevated the importance of immigrant incorporation when he established the White House Task Force on New Americans in 2014 to strengthen civic, economic and linguistic integration and to build strong and welcoming communities. Among other things, the task force encouraged municipalities to become “welcoming communities.”
Welcoming communities is a movement for more inclusive communities that is springing up across the United States. Welcoming America, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that supports efforts of inclusive communities, defines a welcoming community as a place that “fosters a culture and policy environment that makes it possible for newcomers of all backgrounds to feel valued and to fully participate alongside their neighbors in the social, civic and economic fabric of their adopted hometowns.”
Abigail Fisher Williamson’s 2018 book, “Welcoming New Americans,” points out that while the legal landscape of immigration is primarily dictated by federal law, the political landscape of immigrant incorporation is based on the particulars of a locale. In her research, she explores why and how local governments across the country are taking steps to accommodate immigrants, sometimes in the face of formidable opposition. Researchers Manuel Pastor and John Mollenkopf also emphasize the importance of local leadership in shaping opinions and responses to immigrants. In particular, they show that mayoral leadership is critical in leveraging and integrating existing resources and coordinating community stakeholders.
A.K. Sandoval-Strausz describes a three-decade reversal after years of divestment, white flight, job loss and crime crippled American cities in his 2019 book, “Barrio America: How Latino Immigrants Saved the American City.” Today, large cities are hubs for the national economy, have historically lower crime rates, and offer prime urban real estate. Often, this revitalization is attributed to a return to the city by an elite, “creative class” of young professionals. Sandoval-Strausz, however, says this reversal is largely because of Latin American immigrants.
The just-published “Welcoming Communities: Immigrant Incorporation in Dallas, Texas” finds that Dallas is successful on some elements of immigrant incorporation, yet falls short on others. Over a nine-month period, 16 graduate students at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs under my direction worked with the City of Dallas Office of Welcoming Communities and Immigrant Affairs to study immigrant incorporation. Building on the New American Economy’s (NAE) Cities Index, we found that Dallas earns top scores on government leadership but has low scores on NAE’s livability index (homeownership rates, rent burden and overcrowded dwellings, share of people with health insurance, and education levels) and job opportunities index (labor force participation rate, employment rate, and shares of people in high prestige occupations, part-time work and self-employed).
We analyzed the American Community Survey (ACS) five-year estimates for Dallas and found disproportionate percentages of poverty within the immigrant populations located across the southern half of Dallas and gaps in educational assets in certain immigrant communities. Our data analysis revealed that foreign-born owner households in Dallas are 5.1 percent more likely to be cost burdened than native-born owner households and that foreign-born renters are 2.6 percent more likely to be cost burdened. The field research recorded that as individuals have more schooling and have lived in the United States longer, they are more likely to be politically and linguistically integrated.
We concluded that the trajectory for Dallas is positive if the city continues 1) to exercise government leadership on immigrant incorporation, 2) to promote policies fostering economic development and civic engagement among immigrants, and 3) to support programs that enhance the education outcomes, neighborhood livability and access to legal, health and human services in immigrant communities. Most significantly, we realized that the public policies aiming to improve economic prosperity and livability for immigrants boosted all Dallas residents, native and foreign born.
The City of Dallas is working to remove roadblocks to immigrant incorporation, and it is not alone. Many American cities and towns welcome immigrants and understand that the successful incorporation of immigrants contributes to the locales’ economic vitality and vibrant culture.
Ruth Ellen Wasem is a professor of policy practice at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, the University of Texas in Austin, and a fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center. She has testified before Congress about asylum policy, legal immigration trends, human rights and the push-pull forces on unauthorized migration. Follow her on Twitter @rewasem.