Editorial
Grading City Hall: How is L.A.'s city controller doing so far?

Opinion L.A.

Opinion Opinion L.A.

Why City Hall needs an immigrant affairs office [Blowback]

It should be self-evident that a city like Los Angeles -- with nearly half the population having come from outside the country -- would be well served by an Office of Immigrant Affairs at City Hall. But according to Paul Whitefield, who questioned the office's value in his Aug. 27 Opinion L.A. blog post, rebooting the program established by former Mayor James Hahn's administration would distract from basic city services.

Credit Whitefield for making some good points about the need for new Mayor Eric Garcetti to pay attention to these basics, including fixing streets, funding the fire department and improving transit. But his main point is shortsighted and ultimately not in the best interests of Los Angeles.

Immigrant integration is not a special interest. Forty percent of the city's population are immigrants, and 64% of our kids have an immigrant parent. And given Whitefield’s dig at the pledge to have the office help undocumented residents, consider the fact that 1 in 4 Los Angeles kids have a least one undocumented parent, and more than 80% of those kids are U.S.-born. If you care about our kids and their future contributions to our region, you must care about immigrants.

Moreover, immigrants are, as Whitefield hopes, "following in the tradition of millions of other immigrants to America's shores," and doing the majority of the work to integrate themselves.  They are working double shifts at low-wage jobs to make ends meet and to free up time for the high-skilled workers who cannot clean their offices, wash their cars or cook for their kids. And they are far more likely to be self-employed -- in other words, they're job creators -- than their U.S.-born counterparts. Partly because of this, research on America's metropolitan regions shows that those places with a higher share of foreign-born residents are more likely to achieve economic growth over time (even accounting for the fact that growth attracts immigrants).

Perhaps Whitefield lives in a neighborhood where there are few immigrants. After all, L.A.'s geography is one where residents of one neighborhood can be unaware of a problem facing Angelenos across town. So while potholes may be a top priority for some, access to grocery stores or day care -- or citizenship -- may be major concerns for others. Accordingly, the mayor of Los Angeles must take a comprehensive view of the city and try and respond to its all its needs.

Or perhaps Whitefield is just misinformed about the intent of the office. So let us clarify: Immigrant integration means improved economic mobility for, enhanced civic participation by, and receiving society openness to immigrants. Because immigrants make significant contributions to their regions, both newcomers and the receiving society have a responsibility to help them integrate. Both groups benefit as they work together to build secure, vibrant and cohesive communities. 

And it's not a new thing: Previous waves of immigrants benefited from settlement houses, unions and other institutions that facilitated their social and economic integration. Similar but updated city services can perform such tasks today. Consider this: With 459,000 undocumented Angelenos, legalization with a path to citizenship would result in a boost in annual income in the city by between $762 million and $1.3 billion, according to researchers at USC. If immigration reform comes from Washington and the city assists, the multiplier effects would be felt in grocery stores, clothing stores and various service businesses. Imagine how many potholes the increased sales tax revenue would fix.

Other cities seem to be convinced by these arguments. New York City has its own Office of Immigrant Affairs that works to identify city services that are accessible to immigrants, support immigrant-owned businesses and establish conversations between city officials and community leaders to determine the best outreach strategies to immigrant communities -- who are, let's not forget, constituents.  Chicago has followed suit with an Office of New Americans, as has Seattle.

The L.A. Office of Immigrant Affairs will not only learn from those efforts but build on private efforts, such as the Council on Immigrant Integration, a diverse set of institutions convened by the California Community Foundation. Meeting four times each year to coordinate action, it includes representatives from the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, the Los Angeles Police Department, the L.A. Unified School District, labor unions, community groups and many others.  The council has called for a statewide Office for New Americans to address the sort of issues the city office will tackle.

Before posting a snark-filled piece on a serious effort by the city to help immigrants (including an unnecessary dig at the fact the new director of the office has, horror of horrors, a doctorate in political science), Whitefield should have done his homework. Had he done so, he would have acknowledged this: Immigrants are Los Angeles, their children are the future of our region, and working with them to make a better city is in the best interest of us all. 

María Blanco is vice president of civic engagement at the California Community Foundation, and Manuel Pastor is director of the Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration at USC.

If you would like to write a full-length response to a recent Times article, editorial or Op-Ed and would like to participate in Blowback, here are our FAQs and submission policy.

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
Related Content
  • GOP must act on immigration

    GOP must act on immigration

    Before President Obama headed to China this weekend, he sat down one more time with congressional leaders to discuss potential areas of legislative agreement. Not surprisingly, divisions quickly emerged with Republicans — and some of the deepest divisions had to do with immigration reform.

  • The Border Patrol shouldn't be allowed to police itself

    The Border Patrol shouldn't be allowed to police itself

    Two years ago, a scathing independent report by law enforcement experts found that the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency had failed to fully investigate all 67 uses of deadly force, including 19 killings, by its agents from January 2010 through October 2012, most occurring along the southwest...

  • Immigration reform: Let the states lead the way

    Immigration reform: Let the states lead the way

    Texas and California are trying to reform legal migration on their own. The politics in these two states couldn't be more different, but legislators in both states recently proposed running their own guest-worker visa programs to get around the federal immigration reform gridlock. Relying on states...

  • Companies gaming the visa system is a cruel trick on hard-working Americans

    Companies gaming the visa system is a cruel trick on hard-working Americans

    Of all the bait-and-switch tricks, the one that both political and corporate America are pulling on American workers has to be among the meanest.

  • Immigrants in U.S. illegally should not automatically be denied bail

    Immigrants in U.S. illegally should not automatically be denied bail

    The Supreme Court today made a smart call in rejecting the appeal of an odious Arizona law trumping the established legal principle that bail for those charged with criminal offenses should be based on risk of flight and threat to the community.

  • No ICE in L.A. County jails

    No ICE in L.A. County jails

    The move by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors this week to withdraw from a federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement program should resolve what had become an unwelcome blurring of the roles played by sheriff's deputies at county jails and immigration agents. But in a related decision,...

  • Hey, ICE, let the mothers with children go free

    Hey, ICE, let the mothers with children go free

    As the federal government struggled to handle the illicit flow of mothers and children, and children traveling alone, over the Mexican border last summer, it adopted several strategies, some of which made more sense (like trying to improve conditions in Central America) than others. Among the worst...

  • Could the anti-immigrant loudmouths pass a U.S. citizenship test?

    Could the anti-immigrant loudmouths pass a U.S. citizenship test?

    To listen to talk radio and cable television, which are dominated by conservatives, the national and state debates over immigration give the impression that most legal residents of the state of California oppose immigrant workers here illegally and might even be favorably disposed to Mitt Romney's...

Comments
Loading

68°