The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

January 15-19, 2014 I Grand Hyatt San Antonio I San Antonio, TX

Are Cities the New Settlements? Local Government Policies to Welcome Immigrants

Thursday, January 16, 2014: 1:30 PM
HBG Convention Center, Room 102B Street Level (San Antonio, TX)
* noted as presenting author
Richard Smith, PhD, Assistant Professor, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI
Catherine Schmitt-Sands, MA, Graduate Research Assistant, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI
Background and Purpose:

Social workers in the United States have been working with local and global issues regarding immigrants since the days of the settlements. While federal immigration reform has been at a standstill in recent years, state and local governments have taken leadership in addressing problems related to immigration. Some policy leaders have endorsed welcoming immigrants to stabilize high poverty urban neighborhoods and promote regional economic development. The literature on immigration policy suggests that civic incorporation is a long term process where immigrants obtain influence as a co-ethnic community in partnership with civil society. This paper investigates what leads a local government (e.g. county, city, township, village) to recruit immigrants? We hypothesize that cities with higher poverty and higher immigrant populations, and more immigrant serving organizations have greater odds of adopting these polices.


This study used mixed-methods that combined a local government policy scan and an associational, cross-sectional design with time ordering on some independent variables. We prepared a local government policy scan of all municipalities in the United States with a population of over 500 persons to identify policies designed to recruit or specifically serve immigrants. This scan utilized Amazon's Mechanical Turk data services to perform internet searches. We examined each positive finding and a sample of negative findings for quality control. We also categorized pro-immigrant policies. Findings of the policy scan were used as the dependent variable in a logistic regression model (1 = existence of a local government pro-immigrant policy, 0 otherwise). Data for the independent variables were obtained from U.S. Census data provided by GeoLytics, Inc. (e.g. logged population, percent in poverty), the U.S. Economic Census (Asian and Hispanic businesses / 10,000 persons), and GuideStar (immigrant serving organizations / 10,000 persons).


Out of the 13,358 municipalities in the sample, 10,387 had a website, and 848 had at least one pro-immigrant policy. Policies included the following: a) rhetorical expressions of support; b) outreach efforts, c) integration services (e.g. English & citizenship classes), and d) facilitation policies to promote community engagement. Logistic regression results show that a one unit increase in logged population has 3.18 greater odds of having a pro-immigrant policy (p < 0.01). Next, the percentage foreign-born is associated with a higher odds, but the effect is small. Finally, the number of immigrant serving organizations per 10,000 persons approaches significance (p < .10). Poverty and Asian and Hispanic businesses are not significant.

Conclusions and Implications:

There is no evidence that all things equal, cities that are welcoming immigrants have either higher poverty or more Asian and Hispanic businesses. This research is important because it is the most complete database of pro-immigrant local government policies in the United States. It can inform social work practice with immigrants and refugees by cataloging examples of community engagement and advocacy at the local level. Future research should focus on the relationship of different levels of government to the voluntary sector and immigrant communities in a comparative setting to better understand the global issues of local welcoming.