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Immigrants—in their population size, history, and contributions—are deeply embedded in the fabric of metro Chicago. A new report from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs argues that the ability to integrate these populations as successfully as metro Chicago has is a testimony to both the determination of the migrants and the capacity of a functional democratic system of local and state government.

“As Mayor of Chicago, I am incredibly proud of the open, receptive city we've become for both immigrants and refugees,” Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot writes in the report.

More than 1.6 million residents of the Chicago metro area—approximately 9 million people—are immigrants.

“Committing ourselves to providing resources for our immigrant and refugee communities puts us on the fast track to becoming a better, more equitable Chicago—one where everyone has the tools they need to succeed, no matter where they were born or what identities they carry,” writes Mayor Lightfoot.

The report, “A Global Welcome: Metro Chicago’s Approach to Immigrant Inclusion” includes interviews with many of the individuals in the Chicago region doing this work, shedding light on the on-the-ground efforts and the spirit of the city that drives them. The city’s proactive policies and initiatives related to immigrant integration and receptivity is a major reason Chicago was ranked first on the 2019 New American Economy Cities Index for immigrant integration.

“As enduring global challenges remain and new issues arise, it is paramount that city leadership share best practices, create networks to solve common challenges, and build a better future for all residents, regardless of immigration status,” Council President Ivo Daalder writes in the report. “The following analysis provides an overview of greater Chicago’s immigrant community and demonstrates how Chicago has taken unique steps to create a more inclusive city—serving as both an example for global cities worldwide and as a baseline for measuring its own global welcome.”

Still, enormous gaps exist between the ideals of full inclusion of immigrants and the reality of today’s society.

Existing Gaps

  • Undocumented immigrants (who are one in four of all immigrants) have access to certain services, but they still cannot legally work
  • Legal immigrants (another quarter of all immigrants) have the right to live in the United States indefinitely but many have not been able to take advantage of the naturalization process and become US citizens
  • Naturalized immigrants have nearly all the rights of native-born residents, but many have yet to be successfully encouraged to register to vote

Recommendations for Chicago & Cities

  • Take steps to measure the effectiveness and impact of city programs
  • Strengthen relationships with community members and partners
  • Intentionally engage with residents, both native-born and immigrant
  • Pursue programs tailored to diverse immigrant groups, such as refugees and those with DACA status
  • Strengthen metropolitan collaboration across the region

Report authors Paul McDaniel, Associate Professor of Geography at Kennesaw State University, and Rob Paral, Nonresident Fellow, Chicago Council on Global Affairs, are available for comment on the report’s findings.

For findings, graphics and methodology, view or download the full report here.

The production of the report was generously funded by the Walder Foundation.

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight on critical global issues, advances policy solutions, and fosters dialogue about what is happening in the world and why it matters to people in Chicago, the United States, and around the globe. Founded in 1922, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs takes no institutional policy positions.