Start Making Sense: Support Common Sense Immigration Reform

Comprehensive immigration reform is on hold in Washington while lawmakers are home for the August recess. Take advantage of this opportunity to encourage Congress to act on immigration reform.

Immigration reform remains an economic imperative for cities, with several recent studies demonstrating the benefits to both the national economy and to local economies. Common sense immigration reform will create new jobs, increase wages, and generate new tax revenues.

NLC supports comprehensive and common sense immigration reform that includes:

  • Supporting earned citizenship;
  • Eliminating illegal border entry;
  • Increasing enforcement of visa overstays;
  • Strengthening the worksite enforcement capacity;
  • Providing local governments with financial and technical assistance to alleviate the local impact of new immigrants without adding new local mandates.

In June, the Senate adopted a bipartisan immigration bill by a vote of 68 – 32. The bill includes requirements for an earned path to citizenship, border security measures, workplace enforcement and temporary worker categories for low-skilled and agricultural workers, and for unauthorized individuals to go through a series of steps lasting at least 13 years before applying for citizenship.

The Congressional Budget Office recently estimated that if passed, this bill would reduce the federal deficit by $175 billion between 2014 and 2024, and would contribute 3.3 percent to economic growth by 2023 and 5.4 percent by 2034.

Progress on immigration reform has been much slower in the House. So far, two different House panels have worked on a total of six different bills. A bipartisan group has been working for several years on a comprehensive bill but has been unable to reach an agreement and even lost a member earlier in the year.

The House bills include the Agricultural Guestworker Act, the SKILLS Visa Act, the Legal Workforce Act, and the Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement Act or SAFE Act. NLC has strong concerns about the SAFE Act and Legal Workforce Act, which mandates state and local government use the government sponsored E-Verify system on existing employees. The SAFE Act would make unlawful presence in the U.S. a criminal rather than civil violation, compelling all state and local governments to enforce immigration law. House Judiciary Committee Chair Bob Goodlatte (R – VA) provided a guide to the House immigration strategy in an online resource guide for his colleagues.

For cities, enacting immigration reform will allow undocumented immigrants to participate fully in local economies, allow local law enforcement to concentrate on local public safety needs, and provide cities the opportunity to better integrate immigrants into the community.

Urge your elected representatives to help local economies by enacting common sense immigration reform. Contact Leslie Wollack at for more information.

In Dublin, Witnessing a Global Competition for Human Talent

Mayor John DeStefano

Mayor John DeStefano

The following post was written by John DeStefano, Jr., Mayor of the City of New Haven, Conn., and Past NLC President.  It originally appeared as a column in the New Haven Register on February 9, and has been reprinted with permission from Mayor DeStefano.

A western Ukrainian boxer speaking English with an Irish accent?  By the way, he was trained by a Russian coach.  That’s Igor and that is how the world is getting smaller and smaller.

Igor immigrated to Ireland for the same reason that so many come to my city of New Haven, Connecticut.  The opportunity to work, to find something better for himself and his family.  When coming he was challenged by the locals and confused for a Romanian until he learned the universal comeback to all bullies – “what’s it to you?”

What is it to you?  Last week, I visited Dublin, invited to attend a Council of Europe meeting.  Think America’s National League of Cities and you sort of get the idea.  Somewhat more loosely knit.  It’s Europe, you see.

But it’s not the old Europe.  Being French doesn’t mean what it used to be.  Half the people of Toulouse have at least one foreign-born parent.  It’s the same in Germany, Poland, you get the idea.  We look less like what we used to, and more like each other.

So people and cities across Europe are wrestling with change.  Different languages, different colors, different habits.  The best is when folks come up to me and say, “Oh, you’re American.  Well you have been dealing with immigration forever.  We’re just learning.”  As though we have discovered the secret recipe.

The fact is that we in America are still learning, too.  And the truth is that we are at a moment of great opportunity in America.  A moment to embrace a stronger future by passage of comprehensive immigration reform by Washington.

The overwhelming sense I had in Dublin is one of an international competition for the most precious commodity for economic growth:  human talent.  Human talent to innovate, to create, to work hard and to persist.  The aspirational talent of the world is looking for a place to contribute.  To do more and to succeed.  Much as I like Dublin, I would hope that this talent finds its way to America to strengthen, invigorate and grow our economy, instead of someone else’s.

The perfect case example for this can be found in my city’s own front yard at Yale University.  At Yale, over 4,000 people from more than 110 countries are studying, teaching and conducting research.  This migration of talent to New Haven does not diminish us, it makes us bigger.  As research and talent grows, so do university payrolls as well as the payrolls of the companies that commercialize that research.  And, in turn, the service companies that sell, that support and that piggyback off that core growth.

Too often diversity and immigration are seen as simple math, addition and subtraction.  In other words, for me to have my bread, I have to take yours.  Really it’s about multiplication.  Multiplying talent in a stable and progressive society yields exponential results.  Other cities around the world are just beginning to see what America has learned generation after generation.  Let’s get immigration reform done.  Dublin is nice.  But America is where we live.

Embracing the Immigrant Engine

The National League of Cities’ Center for Research and Innovation has joined with Next American City to explore how cities are developing innovative models for tackling complex urban issues and strengthening their local economies.  NLC is featuring a series of case studies, and this post highlights the third and final of the series, The Rise of the New Baltimoreans.

Baltimore, along with many other cities across the country, is welcoming immigrants, and their vast economic contributions, with open arms. These local efforts for the most part are flying under the radar and happening in spite of more newsworthy (but perhaps less common) restrictive state and local immigration policies and rancorous national debate.

Economic Impact
When it comes to immigrants and the economy, the numbers speak for themselves.  According to the Partnership for a New American Economy, immigrants are responsible for nearly one in three new U.S. businesses and are increasingly likely to start a business, just as the rate of new business generation among native-born Americans is on the decline.

And these are businesses that are job and revenue generators for the economy. Immigrant-owned businesses are more likely to hire employees than are non-immigrant-owned firms and more likely to export their goods and services, finds the U.S. Small Business Administration.

“From local neighborhood shops to America’s largest companies, immigrant business owners contribute more than $775 billion dollars in revenue to our annual Gross Domestic Product and employ one out of every ten American workers at privately-owned companies across the country,” notes Partnership for a New American Economy.

High-skilled immigrants now outnumber low-skilled immigrants, according to the Brookings Institute, and represent a large share of business owners and labor force in sectors that are expected to grow over the next decade, from hospitality to informational technology to health care.

For local communities, policies to attract immigrants can translate to growth and revitalization that is not only inclusive, but creates a sense of place and distinctiveness, brings new wealth and opportunities, and reinvigorates the local talent pool.

Baltimore’s Story
New Baltimore mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, started her tenure in 2011, and from day one committed to turning the tide on the city’s population loss and declining economic base.  “A shrinking city is a place unable to meet even the most basic needs of its people — basic rights that everyone should expect,” she said in her inaugural address. “A shrinking city simply cannot stand.”

The mayor’s vision of adding 10,000 families over the next 10 years rests in part on attracting immigrants, who will, both with their numbers and high rates of entrepreneurship, strengthen the city’s economy.  Over the past year, the city, along with a host of multisectoral partners, have offered home-buyer programs, language and legal requirements training, grants and other tools to help boost entrepreneurship and small businesses, and police sensitivity training.

And, as the case study details, although there are skeptics, these efforts appear to be making an economic impact:

“You could roll a bowling ball down the sidewalk five years ago,” says Chris Ryer, president of the Southeast Community Development Corporation, which focuses on the Baltimore’s Highlandtown neighborhood. “Now it’s busy.” As the existing population aged out, young families have moved in. “There’s a lot of strollers on the streets,” says Ryer.

“While many of Highlandtown’s new residents are Latino, the freshly vibrant area has attracted immigrant entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds. The neighborhood’s 10-block commercial strip, says Ryer, houses not only a Latino-owned photography studio but an Israeli-owned grocery and a Peruvian chicken joint. Ryer cites statistics on how immigrants open small businesses at higher rates than their native-born neighbors. “We’re seeing the fruits of that in Highlandtown,” he says.”

Not Alone
The lasting impact of Rawlings-Blake’s efforts remain to be seen, but Baltimore isn’t the only city investing in immigrant-based policies and programs.

  • Boston:  The mayor established the Office of New Bostonians to reach out to the city’s immigrant population, in part by identifying official and unofficial liaisons to local communities. Another key to the effort is celebrating the contributions to Boston’s status as a world class city made by immigrants.
  • Detroit: City and business leaders created Global Detroit to revitalize the economy of Southeast Michigan. Since 2010 it is has raised more than $4 million of philanthropic investments for targeted initiatives to attract immigrants, foreign trade and investment.
  • Dayton: Welcome Dayton hopes to make that southwest Ohio city of 140,000 more receptive to new arrivals and help them along toward citizenship; among the initiative’s goals is to develop an international marketplace for immigrant entrepreneurs in an underinvested corner of the city that has demonstrated growth from recent immigrants.

As these examples suggest, cities looking to new arrivals to help support economic development also have a responsibility to help fully integrate immigrant residents into the mainstream community.

Learn more about how cities can support immigrant integration.

What’s Next
Although cities are making headway in welcoming immigrants, the need for a partnership among governmental partners is critical. The results of a weak partnership in this arena have been made poignantly clear as of late: immigrant entrepreneurship, particularly in high-skilled fields, has plateaued, according to the Kauffman Foundation.

This is due in no small part to the restrictive nature of national immigration laws that are intended to boost U.S. competiveness. For example, laws that force foreign students educated in the U.S. to return home, instead of encouraging them to use their skills and start businesses here.

Or H-1B visas, those that allow employers to hire foreign workers in specialty occupations for a temporary period of time.  They help build a high-skilled workforce, particularly in the STEM fields, but are in limited supply and not evenly geographically distributed, and the allocation of visa fees to local workforce grant programs are misaligned.

But NLC’s Leslie Wollack remains hopeful. “After languishing on Capitol Hill for several years, the results of the presidential election and the large turnout of Latino voters have helped renew the push for the passage of comprehensive immigration reform legislation. Members of Congress and the Administration are voicing optimism that an agreement could be reached as soon as early next year.”

As for their part, cities across the country are embracing the realities and practicalities of immigration as a strong path toward revitalization and growth.

The Latest in Economic Development

This week’s blog discusses a Brookings event focused on skilled immigrants, the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City summit held last week, a book review by the Urbanophile’s Aaron Renn, and new trends in venture capital.

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Get the last edition of “The Latest in Economic Development” here.

Last week,  Brookings hosted a presentation and panel discussion on “Building and Unlocking Immigrant Skills.” The focus was on providing middle and highly-skilled immigrants (which make up 70% of all immigrants) resources to unlock their full potential in the United States. The panel highlighted some promising programs to do just that. Jose Ramon Fernandez-Pena explained the Welcome Back Initiative, which he founded; WBI assists medically trained professionals educated abroad to meet the requirements needed for positions in the US health care industry. Kevin Kelly talked about Upwardly Global (he is on the board), which bridges the gap between employers and skilled immigrants. And Bob Templin, president of Northern Virginia Community College, elucidated the need to make younger immigrants aware of opportunities in their communities to develop skills that they may have never thought about pursuing.

Also last week, the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City held its 2012 Inner City Economic Summit. According to ICIC: “During the 2012 Inner City Economic Summit, city, civic and business leaders will gather to share practices that are proving durable in this fiscal climate; an engaging agenda will extend on-the-ground efforts and identify adaptable solutions.” They have made videos of the presentations (which include talks from Michael Porter and Cory Booker) available on their website.

Over at the Urbanophile blog,  Aaron Renn gives a thoughtful review of The New Geography of Jobs by Enrico Moretti. The central premise of the book as Renn explains it is an idea that has been quite obvious to those observing economic trends of the last 30 years or so: “As radical productivity enhancements and global competition reduced employment and wages in traditional sectors like manufacturing, new knowledge based industries took their place. However, these knowledge industries require… highly educated workers with specialized skills. This leads to clustering of workers and jobs in select hubs, leaving many communities out in the cold.”

The recent investor obsession with social networking platforms is slowly shifting to companies that provide actual business solutions. Rough IPO debuts by companies like Facebook and Groupon have definitely contributed. The Wall Street Journal writes of Marcus Ryu, head of Guidewire Software, which makes software for insurance companies: “Some investment bankers told him he couldn’t hope to land a similar valuation to Groupon’s or Zynga’s – even though his firm… was increasing revenues by double digits to around $175 million a year and was profitable.” With the change in investor sentiment, now Ryu is “getting a dozen calls a week from investors.”

Development, Housing Affordability, and Gentrification: Knowing Your City (Part 2 of 3)

This is the second in a three–part series that explores gentrification as an ‘unintended consequence’ of the (re)development of a place, and identifies innovative tools and strategies that cities are using to address the overlapping issues of mobility and affordability.

In the first blog post of this series, I outlined my concern with the effects of place-based economic development on long-time residents in a neighborhood. With a growing interest in creating transit-oriented developments, vibrant corridors, and walkable communities- generally environmentally and economically intelligent choices for cities- it is increasingly critical that we understand the implications of such efforts for all members of a community.  In this post I explore strategies used by cities to ensure that all residents, newcomers and long-timers alike, benefit from these developments, while the final post will describe specific tools available to cities to preserve an affordable housing stock.

I assert that the first and most critical step to avoiding displacement is a re-examination of the intention behind planning for such developments. While the resulting increase in the tax base that comes from a ‘successful’ redevelopment effort is often necessary for cities to remain economically competitive, a broader set of factors including social, cultural, demographic, and economic diversity is equally necessary to create healthy and sustainable cities. In her presentation at NLC’s 2011 Congress of Cities,’ Emily Talen, a professor at Arizona State University, similarly illustrates the importance of various types of diversity to create vibrant, resilient cities.

Given that gentrification is often regarded as an ‘unintended’ consequence, or an unfortunate after-effect of an otherwise successful redevelopment effort, perhaps the most effective intervention is one of intentionality during the earliest stages of the process. Rather than waiting to see how redevelopment efforts may or may not result in the gentrification of a neighborhood, I suggest embedding inclusive planning practices from the start to actively integrate and understand the needs and visions of current and future residents of the community.

I outline here three basic principles that, albeit straightforward, radically alter the ways in which we understand, prioritize, and plan redevelopment efforts. While these principles represent only the first steps in moving towards the creation of economically diverse, ‘sustainable’ neighborhoods, they are important to set us on a path of altering where and how redevelopment occurs:

Know What Matters.  The vision shapes the product.  Gentrification ends up being an ‘unintended consequence’ of development primarily because nothing in the vision of a development project states otherwise.  It’s simple—a vision for a project that explicitly prioritizes the preservation of affordable housing (as an example), in addition to economic vitality, is the first step towards ensuring that affordable housing becomes a reality.  Purposefully crafting a vision statement, for a neighborhood or corridor redevelopment, establishes which priorities will guide the project.

For their long-term strategic plan, the City of Portland explicitly stated that “advancing equity” was the foundation of the plan.  Read what that means to them, and how they engaged the community to advance their equity goals.

Know All Sides. A story changes depends on who tells it. It’s a simple concept, but one that has great implications for the planning of neighborhoods. It is often challenging or time-consuming to make sure that all critical stakeholders in a community—local businesses, residents, and potential developers—are at the table.  However, these small businesses and residents who have lived in the neighborhood for a long time have unique local knowledge that would help to inform future development. Additionally, if it is a priority to retain current residents and businesses, then future development has to respond to their needs and visions for the community as well. A heavy outreach effort including the use of social media as well as community meetings that foster inclusiveness and embrace diverse opinions and stories, are critical to gain community support and ensure that plans incorporate their valuable local knowledge.

Check out this case study of a redevelopment process in the City of Albuquerque as an example of how to effectively build community consensus around a project.  Additionally, this report highlights twenty innovative city programs aimed specifically at integrating immigrant communities.

Know What You’re Working With.  Many cities have mastered the art of economic analyses and economic projections (NLC, in partnership with Northeastern University, offers assistance on this front). However, we still have a ways to go with using equity measures to understand the current conditions of our neighborhoods and the implications of future development.For example, if a priority goal is to maintain housing affordability, then we need to better situate ‘affordability’ based on specific neighborhood conditions.  Luckily, emerging technologies —including an array of mapping tools —have made it much easier to get a sense of current conditions and understand some of the ‘equity effects’ of our development decisions.

In a webinar hosted by NLC last month, Stefanie Shull of the Center for Neighborhood Technology presented on their Housing and Transportation Affordability Index, a comprehensive way to measure true housing affordability by incorporating transportation costs and neighborhood characteristics.  Check out their interactive map here. 

The next and final blog post for this series will focus on specific tools – such as community benefits agreements, inclusionary zoning, and design strategies – that communities have successfully used to ensure housing affordability in the midst of redevelopment efforts. Stay tuned and email if you have a great example!

Concluding NLC’s Delegation to Europe: Day 5 [Hamburg, Germany]

NLC delegates tour IBA

After a full week of traveling, touring, meetings, and presentations we reach the end of NLC’s International Sustainability Exchange. We began our day with a meeting at the Ministry of Urban Development and Environment where delegates engaged with leading authorities on efforts that the City of Hamburg is taking to reduce carbon emissions while at the same time attracting and growing business opportunities within the renewable energy sector.

Delegates learned about an innovative “renewable energy cluster,” developed and led by the city, to support the growth of renewable technologies – most notably wind and solar energy – and the regional economy.  By utilizing existing assets, including their expansive port and strengths in project development, maritime engineering, finance, and other “know-how” services, Hamburg is positioning itself as a leader in the renewable energy industry.

Following this discussion the delegates returned to Town Hall for a meeting with the First Mayor Olaf Scholz. We were honored to have this opportunity to meet with Mayor Scholz, who due to the political structure of the country is also President of the Senate, or Governor of the State of Hamburg. Mayor Scholz met privately with the delegation and discussed at length issues including the intersections of environmental sustainability, industry, immigration and education.

As a major shipping and industrial area Hamburg’s designation as the European Green Capital is especially impressive and stems from public and political commitments in response to industrial pollution and harmful conditions in the ‘70s-80s. Today Hamburg faces challenges of an expanding immigrant population and need for social sustainability including equitable access to education and ensuring there remains a skilled workforce to meet the demands of expanding technologically-based industry.

The day concluded with a tour of sites within the International Building Exhibition (IBA), scheduled to open in 2013. Delegates received an overview of IBA’s community development activities by CEO Uli Hellwig who explained how the exhibition is providing an opportunity to demonstrate innovative approaches to a changing environmental landscape such as housing that can respond to sea-level rise. The group then visited “Energy Mountain,” a former contaminated landfill now the site of wind and solar energy production and the “Energy Bunker,” a former WWII bunker being converted into a renewable energy generator and storage facility.

As we reach the conclusion of this Sustainability Best Practice Exchange in many ways we find ourselves still very much at the beginning – of opportunities for informative dialogue, expanded international collaboration, and lasting relationships with all those we had the honor of meeting along the way. Throughout this past week delegates and our hosts discussed components of sustainability – environment, economy, and society – as the “three P’s”: people, planet, and profit. In looking back over the lessons that we gathered from this experience, three additional “P’s” emerge: Patience, Passion, and Partnership. As mentioned in the first blog post in this series, sustainability can be extremely complex and often very challenging. With the right combination of perseverance, political leadership, comprehensive strategy, and broad-stakeholder support and collaboration we have seen that sustainability is possible – at home and abroad.

We sincerely thank the U.S. Embassy in Stockholm and U.S. Consulate in Hamburg for this opportunity and all those sustainability leaders we had the great pleasure of meeting and exchanging information with in Stockholm, Malmo and Hamburg.

To continue to follow the work of NLC’s Sustainability Program and learn more about what cities are doing across the country to advance sustainability please visit

An Immigrant’s Perspective: The Importance of Resource Access Programs

This post is by Michelle Burgess of NLC’s Center for Research and Innovation’s Municipal Action for Immigration (MAII) program.

Imagine for a moment that you are an immigrant to the United States. You hope to make this new country your home, and yet, many of the customs and culture confuse you. Most likely, you have a limited grasp of the English language, and like 20% of the American population, you speak a language other than English at home. Despite your efforts to absorb the language, you face a steep learning curve and struggle to communicate in this new environment.  Simple processes and ways of doing things no longer make sense, as they do not match your cultural expectations. Amidst all of these adjustments, you’re trying to start a new life and provide for your family. Yet, in many cases, you do not know where or how to start.

Depending on where you have come from, you may distrust authorities as you’re accustomed and expecting entrenched abuses of corruption, inefficiency or violence. Alternatively, you may be unaware that government or community services even exist. If you do know about certain community resources, you most likely remain unaware of the process required to access or sign up for them.

This is where resource access programs can play a role in immigrant integration. While direct services in health care, education, housing, etc., help transition and settle immigrants into an area, resource access strategies of referrals, multilingual outreach and availability are equally important in connecting new arrivals with these existing resources. NLC’s Municipal Action for Immigrant Integration (MAII) program’s new city practice brief, Immigrant Integration: Resource Access and Cultural Exchange profiles some of these successful city and community programs that connect immigrants into existing city resources. This framework of outreach and education teaches immigrants not only about city resources, but also about civic responsibilities.

The new brief also highlights successful strategies to build support and understanding within the established community. Integration works two ways, and these cultural exchange initiatives strengthen the other side of resource access – having a community that recognizes and provides for the diversity and integration within its neighborhoods.

As a new immigrant, you face a multitude of challenges to adapt and integrate into the United States. Programs like the ones profiled in Immigrant Integration: Resource Access and Cultural Exchange can help make that transition easier through guidance and support. For cities facing demographic change, these programs can also ease the transition, not only by strengthening immigrant integration but also by informing long-term residents about the changes occurring within their communities.