Tanvi Misra is a staff writer for CityLab covering immigrant communities, housing, economic inequality, and culture. She also authors Navigator, a weekly newsletter for urban explorers (subscribe here). Her work also appears in The Atlantic, NPR, and BBC.
Cities with large foreign-born populations are likely to process the bulk of applicants following Obama's executive action.
President Obama is in Nashville, Tennessee, today promoting his executive action on immigration, which shields up to 5 million people who entered the country illegally from deportation. Cities like Nashville that are home to large foreign-born populations are likely candidates to process the bulk of eligible immigrants. On Monday, mayors and other leaders from 25 such cities came together and compared notes on how they can help.
Support from these big city mayors is as much a political statement as it is a substantive step towards implementation, says Joshua Hoyt, executive director of the National Partnership for New Americans. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who hosted Monday's summit, is trying to build "a wall of mayors" as a counterweight to the political opposition the president faces, Hoyt explains. But support from mayors will also be key in more practical terms, such as in helping service providers tackle the administrative side of implementing the policy, Hoyt says.
"I think the whole thing is going to be quite challenging," says Nisha Agarwal, the commissioner of New York City's Office of Immigrant Affairs. "There’s going to be a real need to get lots of people to put in applications, early on."
Immigrants are understandably nervous to put their names on a government list, so convincing residents to sign up would be the first task on any mayor's to-do list. The second will be helping service providers tackle the large number of people coming to them for help, which will pose "a massive human services challenge.”
Mayors at the summit, which included the leaders of Seattle, Newark, and Buffalo among others, pledged to coordinate closely with the labor, faith-based and community organizations that are likely to be doing the heavy-lifting on the ground. The mayors said they will ask community leaders to relay correct information about the application process and how best to access the services government agencies provide.
"Cities have a lot of bully pulpits and communication networks that are very easy to access," Hoyt says. Community college English classes, public schools and libraries are all spaces that groups trying to reach immigrants can use as information hubs.
Cities can also make sure that their logistical machinery is well-oiled, so they're prepared when immigrants come knocking.
"One of the main ways that we’ll be helpful to the service providers is just by making sure that our city agencies that are critical to the application process ... are ready," Agarwal says about New York City. Many city agencies had a bit of a dry run in 2012 when the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy was announced, she says, and the city will again look to leverage legal, philanthropic, and law enforcement partners, Agarwal adds.
No additional funding support is expected at the city level, but Hoyt thinks that could change.
"My experience with political leaders that there’s never any money for anything unless it’s important for them to do it, and then, money appears."