We worked with the New York Immigration Coalition to identify 9 key factors that determine how welcoming a city is to immigrants, and we used them to evaluate the 50 largest US cities. We want to call attention to immigrant communities and remind people that everyone has the right to feel at home in America.
We hope this list celebrates the cities that rank highly, and challenges other cities to become more hospitable to people who've made incredible sacrifices to call them home.
San Francisco beat out New York and Chicago for first place, largely on the strength of its affordable mass transit and higher high school graduation rate. New York boasts the most accessible public transportation, but riders spend more of their income on fares than they do in San Fran.
The City by the Bay earned high marks across the board. Its city government strongly supports a municipal ID program, an Office of Civic Engagement & Immigrant Affairs, and the city’s sanctuary city status. ,
The lone blemish is San Francisco’s cost of living. According to the Council for Community and Economic Research, the total cost of living in the city is 62.6% higher than the US average. To his credit, Mayor Ed Lee is working to improve this. In 2014, he made a pledge to create 30,000 new and rehabilitated homes by 2020, and to date, he’s more than halfway (17,000) to that goal. The added homes have led to drops in average rental and home prices, and eviction rates.
California boasts 7 of the top 20 best cities for immigrants: San Francisco, San Jose, San Diego, Los Angeles, Oakland, Sacramento, and Long Beach.
California became a sanctuary state in October 2017, when it enacted a law that limits cooperation between local officials and federal immigration enforcement. This was a large factor in pushing these 7 cities into the top 20.
Additionally, 2 of California’s cities host municipal ID programs, which are very rare (San Francisco & Oakland).
Despite the fact that almost 60% of its population is made up of immigrants, Miami came in dead last at #50.
Miami earned its highest score with universal pre-school, but it ranked low on affordability and government support across the board.
According to The Miami Herald, when the city was removed from the sanctuary cities list, it “sparked outrage from local immigration advocates, who accused the Cuban-born mayor of betraying Miami-Dade’s heritage of welcoming immigrants and advocating for the embrace of new arrivals to the country.”
Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed into law a ban on sanctuary cities earlier this year. While the ban has been repealed and several Texas cities sued the state after the law passed, it’s still partially in effect.
It’s worth noting that Austin and Dallas are close to the top 20, at #22 and #26. Austin (Travis County) recently abandoned its policy of declining most ICE detainers, but both Austin and Dallas have Offices of Immigrant Affairs, universal preschool, and high graduation rates. Additionally, Austin and San Antonio recently announced that they’d provide publicly funded attorneys to people facing deportation.
We analyzed 9 criteria under the categories of affordability, education, and government support to score the 50 most populated U.S cities, using over 180 different sources that included the U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and multiple news pieces and local government sites.
Each criteria is scored on a 1-4 point scale, which we assigned by yes/no responses (yes - 4, no - 1) or percentile ranks for quantifiable data (25th percentile - 1, 50th percentile - 2, etc.). Once the criteria was scored, we assigned a weight depending on the category’s importance. For example, anything related to government policy is weighted heaviest, since the government’s job to represent, support, and protect all Americans is a crucial factor for immigrants. Once weights were assigned, we tallied each city’s score to determine their rankings.
The nine key factors that informed how welcoming a city is to immigrants were: