Mayor Emanuel announced yesterday the formation of an Office of New Americans with the hopes of transforming Chicago into the most immigrant-friendly city in the world. That's right Vancouver, you better watch your back.
The reasons for the new office are very personal to the Mayor. He comes from a family of immigrants, and as a recent immigrant from the District of Columbia himself, he faced many of the challenges common to Chicago's new immigrants. Vicious competition to find his first job. The stereotype of D.C. people as being foul mouthed and self centered. And most notably, a particularly grueling battle against housing discrimination. If it weren't for his connections back in the old country, I doubt he would have made it through.
Oh, but I kid, I keeeeeeed.
In truth, I whole-heartedly applaud this development. I'm particularly interested in the last bullet point in the press release announcing the new office:
Promote U.S. citizenship by working with community organizations and federal agencies that provide immigration and citizenship services.
Yes, I'm excited that the Mayor's Office is interested in helping immigrant communities build small businesses. And yes, it's wonderful they'll work with community organizations to increase access to city agencies and provide linguistic resources - I teach English as a second language for crying out loud, this is great! But none of it matters without the cooperation with federal agencies that will provide a clear paths to citizenship and utterly disallow the rabid persecution of immigrants that you see in places like Tuscon and Detroit.
I've seen the lines at U.S. embassies in Latin America. One of the reasons there are so many people crossing illegally is because it's almost impossible to get into the United States on a legal basis. The immigration system has ground to a halt, as evidenced by lines that stretch twice around the embassy buildings daily. Should a visa applicant be fortunate enough to actually meet with a person to review their request, the first things they want to know are: where are you going?, where will you stay when you get there?, and how will you support yourself? A hazy answer to any of those questions and the applicant is toast.
Can the Mayor's office help? Will this new office reach out to potential immigrants as well as those already present to streamline the process so they can provide the clear answers, "I'm going to Chicago where I've got a place and a job waiting thanks to the Chicago O.N.A."
It's a lofty goal, but necessary if Chicago is really to become the most immigrant-friendly city in the world. The Office of New Americans along with the Illinois DREAM Act are a great start. It'll be a challenging balancing act to see if Chicago will perceive this as embracing new Americans or just a new way to neglect old Americans. Let's see if Chicago is ready to be that global city Mayor Emanuel is envisioning.
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