The 10 best cities in the US for immigrants

Haitian immigrants and supporters rally to reject DHS Decision to terminate TPS for Haitians, at the Manhattan borough in New York

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Haitian immigrants and supporters rally to reject DHS Decision to terminate TPS for Haitians, at the Manhattan borough in New York
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Thomson Reuters

  • Some cities in the US have been ramping up their efforts to attract newcomers, even as President Donald Trump’s administration rails against illegal and legal forms of immigration.
  • Aa number of cities have been implementing immigrant-friendly programs or limiting their cooperation with federal immigration authorities.

President Donald Trump’s administration is cracking down on all corners of the US immigration system, but some cities have opened their arms wide instead.

Across the US, cities have begun rolling out immigrant-friendly policies, rethinking the way their police departments cooperate with federal immigration authorities, and launching sweeping campaigns designed to attract newcomers.

According to a list compiled by TransferWise and the New York Immigration Coalition, the top 10 cities for immigrants range geographically but have a few common programs or policies that either assist immigrants in integrating into their new communities, enable affordable lifestyles, or help shield them from deportation.

The list creators analyzed the 50 most populous cities in the US and scored them based on nine criteria. They range from quality of life factors, like the average cost of living, and immigrant-friendly policies, like the degree to which local law enforcement cooperates with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Other criteria included high school graduation rates, minimum wage, affordability of public transportation, universal preschool, municipal ID programs, offices dedicated to immigrant affairs or “new Americans,” and whether the cities labeled themselves “sanctuary cities.”

Here are the 10 best cities for immigrants:


10. Milwaukee, WI

Milwaukee’s affordability is one of its most appealing traits to newcomers – its average cost of living falls well below the national average. It is also one of a handful of cities in the US to offer a municipal ID program, which provides residents with photo identification and allows them access to certain services regardless of their immigration status.

Like other cities named on the list, Milwaukee has a policy that limits law enforcement officers’ cooperation with ICE, and it refuses to honor the agency’s non-legally binding requests to detain suspected unauthorized immigrants in certain cases.


9. Los Angeles, CA

Despite its high cost of living and woeful public transit system, Los Angeles is particularly beloved by immigrants, who make up 38% of the city’s overall population.

Other points in LA’s favor include its $12 minimum wage – much higher than the US median of $8.15 – and its universal preschool program.


8. Boston, MA

Boston has long been seen as a haven for immigrants, dating back to the early 1900s when the city was one of the busiest ports of entry for foreigners.

Nowadays, Boston has retained its appeal to newcomers by offering a generous array of public services, like universal preschool and affordable transit, as well as a recently-implemented $11 minimum wage.


7. Seattle, WA

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Reuters/Chris Helgren

Seattle’s population, like that of Los Angeles, has a high proportion of immigrants: nearly one-fifth of the city’s residents are foreign-born.

One of the most useful services Seattle provides to immigrants is its citywide “Ready to Work” program that helps build job readiness skills. The program has been touted by the Department of Labor as a “best practice model on how to leverage workforce funding to support immigrant integration in the labor force.”


6. Baltimore, MD

Baltimore has also strived in recent years to make itself more attractive to immigrants. Former Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake set a goal of increasing the city’s population by 10,000 families over a decade, focusing primarily on immigrants.

The city also put into effect a policy prohibiting police and other city officials from asking residents about their immigration status.


5. Washington, DC

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Reuters/Larry Downing

The US capital is already a popular destination for immigrants – more than one-seventh of its population is foreign-born, and many of those immigrants have since become naturalized citizens.


4. San Jose, CA

San Jose has spent the last several years rolling out a series of programs and campaigns designed to assist immigrants, whether or not they’re legally residing in the US.

Santa Clara County, where San Jose is located, is home to more than 180,000 unauthorized immigrants, and county officials pledged earlier this year to put roughly $1.5 million toward legal aid for immigrants facing deportation who have not committed serious violent crimes.

San Jose officials also launched a communications campaign meant to educate immigrants about their rights, assist families in making “safety plans,” and allow churches to offer sanctuary to immigrants during deportation sweeps.


3. New York, NY

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Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Though New York is hindered by its high average cost of living and unaffordable and its crumbling mass transit system, it sails past many other cities in its overall friendliness toward immigrants thanks to certain city programs.

New York hosts the nation’s largest municipal ID program, offers sweeping language access policies, and limits its law enforcement agencies’ cooperation with ICE.

It hasn’t been all smooth sailing, though. City officials came under fire this year by immigrant rights groups over New York’s “sanctuary” status after numerous reports surfaced of ICE agents conducting immigration arrests at courthouses.

Some left-wing critics of New York Mayor Bill de Blasio’s crime and policing strategy argue that New York should not claim to be a sanctuary city if it continues to crack down on low-level crimes such as marijuana possession and turnstile-jumping, which can lead to some immigrants’ arrests.

In an interview with former DNAinfo and Gothamist reporters conducted earlier this month, de Blasio shifted the blame for the ICE courthouse arrests to New York state, which controls the court system, and said the city’s policing strategy shouldn’t change just because a person’s arrest and subsequent court appearance could end in deportation.

“I don’t think we can change how we protect our city,” de Blasio said. “There’s a common good we have to think about. The common good is keeping people safe. We’re not going to say because of the needs of a subset of the city we’re going to ignore the needs of everyone else.”


2. Chicago, IL

Chicago wins points for having most of the same traits as New York – a relatively high minimum wage, municipal ID program, universal pre-school, and “sanctuary” policies. Although its high school graduation rate is lower than New York, Chicago has a slightly more affordable average cost of living.

The Windy City also has a reputation for being welcoming to immigrants, even going as far as to launch a public-service campaign welcoming newcomers to the city and directing immigrants to resources such as legal assistance, mental health care, and citizenship information.

But Chicago, perhaps more than any other major US city, has drawn the ire of President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions for its skyrocketing violent crime and murder rates.

As part of Chicago’s “Welcoming City Ordinance,” officials there limited police cooperation with ICE and prohibited officers from questioning law-abiding residents about their immigration statuses.

The Trump administration attributes the bloodshed in Chicago in part to illegal immigration, and Sessions has accused Chicago officials of showing “open hostility to enforcing laws designed to protect law enforcement … and reduce crime, and instead have adopted an official policy of protecting criminal aliens who prey on their own residents.”

The city has doubled down, however, in defending its sanctuary title and noting that the vast majority of violent crime in the city is committed by US citizens, not immigrants.

“If [immigrants] are isolated and nobody stands up for them, they can be picked on,” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel told The Wall Street Journal earlier this year. “The person picking on them now is the government.”


1. San Francisco, CA

San Francisco fulfilled nearly all of the survey’s criteria, falling short only on the affordability of the average cost of living. The city has seen skyrocketing home prices in recent years, along with the booming tech industry and influx of startups.

The average cost of living in San Francisco is 62.6% higher than the national average, according to the Council for Community and Economic Research.

Apart from the expenses, the city has every other trait making it a haven for newcomers to the US, according to TransferWise. San Francisco has a higher high school graduation rate and a more affordable public transportation system than other immigrant-friendly cities like New York and Chicago.

It also has a strong municipal ID program and an Office of Civic Engagement and Immigrant Affairs, and it maintains its controversial “sanctuary” policies despite recent blowback from the public.

San Francisco faced renewed scrutiny this year over its policies that limit cooperation with ICE after the 2015 death of resident Kate Steinle at the hands of Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, a Mexican national living in the US illegally.

Garcia Zarate had been deported five times and convicted of multiple immigration- and drug-related felonies at the time, and San Francisco came under fire for releasing Garcia Zarate from local custody rather than turning him over to ICE, which had flagged him for deportation.

The city has since slightly adjusted its policies regarding cooperation with ICE but maintained that it “is and always will be a sanctuary city.”