The Best Cities For Immigrants In The U.S. Are Not Where You’d Expect

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In recent years, immigrants in the U.S. have faced increased scrutiny due in large part to influential politicians who support xenophobic policies. But some U.S. cities are defying federal mandates that make immigrants less secure, and their work is not going unnoticed. TransferWise, an international money transfer platform, and the New York Immigration Coalition have created an index on America's best and worst cities for immigrants, and some of the rankings may surprise you.

The index highlights U.S. cities and states that are implementing programs and policies to protect and empower immigrant communities. While cities that rank high on the list of best places for immigrants to live should be celebrated, creators of the list stated in the report that they want those cities that were ranked poorly to take it as a challenge to create a more welcoming and sustainable environment for immigrant communities.

The report examines the 50 most populated U.S. cities using nine scorecard items, which were grouped into three categories (government, affordability, and education). Some of the scorecard items are sanctuary city status, cost of living, and high school graduation rates.

The government category received the most weight in the calculation, followed by affordability, then education. The report explains the reasoning behind giving the most weight to the government for the index. “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,” the report reads. The list was created by tallying each city’s score, and some of the rankings may surprise you.

San Francisco is the number one city for immigrants according to this index. The city narrowly beat out number two, Chicago, by having higher high school graduation rates and more affordable public transportation, even though Chicago’s public transportation system is considered more accessible than San Francisco’s, according to the report.

San Francisco received high marks in all but one area — average cost of living. San Francisco has rightfully earned its reputation of being an expensive city: According to the Council for Community and Economic Research, the total cost of living in San Francisco is 62.6% higher than the U.S. average. According to the TransferWise report, the mayor of San Francisco, Ed Lee, is working on San Francisco’s affordability issues by adding additional housing units. In a press release, Mayor Lee ordered the city to create 5,000 new housing units annually.

Overall, California is a ranked high on the list. Seven out of the top 20 cities were located in California — San Francisco, San Jose, San Diego, Los Angeles, Oakland, Sacramento, and Long Beach. In 2017, California became a sanctuary state.

Despite nearly 60 percent of the population being made up of immigrants, according to TransferWise's data, Miami, Florida, came in last place on the list. Miami received a high score for its universal preschool program, but got low scores in pretty much every other category. Earlier this year, the city was removed from the sanctuary city list. The removal “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,” as The Miami Herald reported.

Texas, also, trends towards the bottom of the list with four cities (El Paso, Houston, Arlington and Fort Worth) in the bottom 20. Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed a ban on sanctuary cities into law earlier this year, and despite opposition, it is currently being partially implemented according to The Texas Tribune.

Austin and Dallas are towards the top of the list, at number 22 and number 26, respectively. Both cities have Offices/Commissions of Immigrant Affairs, universal preschool, and high graduation rates. The City of Austin also announced it will provide publicly funded attorneys to every person in the city facing deportation. This move shows that Austin is committed to protecting immigrant communities, which not every city has undertaken.

Immigrants deserve to live in safe, non-hostile environments just like anybody else. This index shows that some cities are making more of an effort to be welcoming and accommodating to immigrant-specific struggles than others.