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Emanuel’s immigrant vision good for all

Updated: July 23, 2012 7:27AM



Mayor Rahm Emanuel seems not to waste any opportunity to remind us that he wants Chicago to become “the most immigrant-friendly city in the world.”

Notice that Emanuel says in the whole world — not just in the United States. He is even learning to speak Spanish.

And I am beginning to think he might really mean it.

A few days ago, Emanuel came out in strong support — no suprise here for the former White House chief of staff — for President Barack Obama’s decision to give qualified undocumented young people a break from deportation and a two-year work permit as long as they came to this country with their parents when they were children.

And now Emanuel has put together an impressive group of leaders who will present him with a plan at the end of the summer to make sure Chicago continues to be a place that embraces diversity and attracts the best human capital.

The 50 leaders come from business, academia, civic and community organizations and will serve as the Office of New Americans Advisory Council. Their recommendations will focus on economic opportunities, education, public safety, health, city services and civic engagement.

Last July, Emanuel unveiled the Office of New Americans to help immigrants use the city’s services as well as open businesses and become citizens.

“Whether in Rogers Park or Little Village, our city’s vitality has been built on the strength of immigrant populations that have come to enjoy new freedoms and access new opportunities,” said Emanuel about the creation of the council.

I am always skeptical when a politician creates a commission to study a problem. Most times the experts spend months or even years coming up with a plan that then just sits on someone’s desk. So it helps to know that the Office of New Americans Advisory Council has a tight deadline to come up with recommendations.

It’s equally encouraging that City Hall even sees immigrants — legal and undocumented — as an “engine” of economic vitality. To understand the economic impact of immigrants in Chicago, one need only consider that the city’s 26th Street commercial corridor, the heart of the Mexican neighborhood of Little Village, is second only to the Magnificent Mile of Michigan Avenue in generating retail tax revenues.

Alabama and Arizona, if they bothered to study Chicago, might come to undertand that harassing immigrants is not good business.

It is good business, though, to tap into the resources a city like Chicago has to offer. The members of the Advisory Council are talented and successful individuals who contribute to make Chicago a great city. Among them is Alejandro Silva, an immigrant from Mexico whose company, Evans Food Group, employs 400 and has annual gross revenues of nearly $100 million.

“Immigrants not only add to the cultural fabric of our world-class city, but also are an economic force in moving us forward together in a global market,” said Lawrence Benito, executive director of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrants and Refugees Rights and a member of the Advisory Council.

Coming up with recommendations might be the easy part. Actually following that road map to make Chicago the most immigrant-friendly city in the world will be the real challenge.

Let’s hope it works, for the good of all Chicagoans.



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