The 10 best cities for immigrants in the US

27.11.17
5 minute read
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Our study, conducted with support from the New York Immigration Coalition reveals the 10 US cities that are most supportive of immigrants.

Based on nine criteria, these are the top ten cities for immigrants in the US.† For more insights, read the index here.


10. Milwaukee, WI

Perhaps an unexpected entry in the top ten, Milwaukee has a lot to offer its immigrant community.

Key in its high score is its good cost of living. As Betsy Plum, Vice President of Policy at the New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC) explains: “Affordability is particularly important for newly arrived immigrants who might not have the same support systems as other Americans.”

Milwaukee also offers universal preschool and offers a municipal ID program. Like the other entrants on this list, it implements detainer policies – which means it limits or refuses to honor compliance with ICE detainers, which are used to begin deportation proceedings against people who’ve encountered state law enforcement agencies.


9. Los Angeles, CA

Over 38% of LA’s population are immigrants, the second highest among the top ten.

California is home to seven of the top 20 best cities for immigrants, of which LA ranked third highest (scroll down for the two Californian cities that beat it).

Partially explaining this high score is the fact that California became a sanctuary state in October 2017. The legislation limits cooperation between local officials and federal immigration enforcement.

Factors that might deter new arrivals to LA? Its high cost of living and poor public transit present challenges, although its minimum wage policies and universal preschool are notable advantages.


8. Boston, MA

Our first east coast entry, Boston, has a long history of immigration.

Boston has sanctuary city status and offers universal preschool, a decent minimum wage, and affordable transit.

However, the city lost ground on our ranking because, despite its international reputation for higher education, it has a relatively low high school graduation rate.


7. Seattle, WA

Nearly a fifth of the Emerald City’s population is from another country.

The city has an unusually sympathetic attitude to new arrivals. Its Ready To Work policy, for example, “help[s] immigrants gain job readiness skills and take steps toward economic self-sufficiency.”

In fact, the program has gained national recognition, with the U.S. Department of Labor acknowledging it as a “best practice model on how to leverage workforce funding to support immigrant integration in the labor force.”


5=. Baltimore, MD

Baltimore, whose Inner Harbor was once famous as the US’ second port of entry for immigrants, has an important history of immigration.

More recently, Baltimore has been trying to make itself more welcoming for immigrants. Former Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake set out to bring in 10,000 new families over a ten year period, and the city put forward a bill for official government ID cards in 2016.

Not having an ID card is a sore absence for immigrants. NYIC’s Betsy Plum explains: “It can impact access to a bank account, your child's school, government buildings, and more. Critically, if you need to call the police, a city ID can help reduce fears you might have in calling the police if you don’t have an ID.”


5=. Washington D.C.

The nation’s capital has a lot going for it when it comes to attracting immigrants to its community.

In fact, more than one in seven residents are immigrants, of which 2 in 5 are naturalized citizens.

And while 20% have less than a high school diploma, many adult immigrants go on to pursue higher education. According to the American Immigration Council, nearly three in five adult immigrants had a college degree or more education in 2015.


4. San Jose, CA

Like many Californian cities, San Jose has proved to be a welcoming place for many immigrants.

The City of San Jose’s Office of Immigrant Affairs was established in 2015 and works to engage with and welcome immigrant to the cities. It speaks proudly of aspiring to be a world-renowned multi-cultural city.

In early 2017, city leaders began a campaign to educate immigrants about their rights, which included easing restrictions to allow churches to provide sanctuary to undocumented residents if deportation sweeps occur.


3. New York, NY

Perhaps nowhere is more iconic as a port of arrival than New York.

However, despite its world-famous subway system, NYC actually lost points on our index ranking here because of its high transportation costs.

Betsy Plum of NYIC explains: “New York has been the immigration trailblazer in this country, but there’s always more a city can and should do. New York is proud to host the largest municipal ID program, expansive language access policies, and broad investments to legal services.”


2. Chicago, IL

Windy but welcoming. Chicago is well known for its vibrant immigrant communities and open, welcoming attitude.

Chicago has been a center for immigration for a long time, and scores well on most of the nine factors that we see as important to new immigrants.

However, it has a relatively expensive transit system, and its cost of living isn’t the cheapest.


1. San Francisco, CA

Despite its high cost of living, The City by the Bay is the number one spot on our list of the ten best cities for immigrants.

San Francisco received full marks on each of the nine factors we measured, except for average cost of living, which is is 62.6% higher than the U.S. average.

San Francisco has full city government support in items like access to a municipal ID program, sanctuary city status, and an Office of Civic Engagement & Immigrant Affairs. Additionally, Mayor Ed Lee has added more homes, leading to fewer evictions and drops in rental and home prices.


So the final list looks like this:

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†Index Methodology:  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.

We identified nine key factors that inform how welcoming a city is to immigrants:

  1. Self-declaration as a "Sanctuary City"

  2. Detainer policies in place, specifically a policy in place that refuses to honor or limits ICE compliance

  3. Office of Immigrant Affairs/New Americans

  4. Access to municipal ID program

  5. Affordable public transit

  6. Average cost of living

  7. Minimum wage

  8. Universal pre-school

  9. High school graduation rates

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