Connecting state and local government leaders
Urban areas internationally will assume another 2.5 billion refugees and internally displaced persons by 2050, and few of them are ready.
Conflicts in countries like Syria have displaced more than 60 million people internationally in the 21st century, more than World War II, and most of those migrants and internally displaced persons wind up in cities, according to a new 100 Resilient Cities report.
At the same time, climate-related disasters like floods, storms, wildfires and extreme heat forced 21.5 million people from their homes. By 2050, impacts from climate change will have displaced an estimated 200 million thanks to drought and coastal erosion, according to “Global Migration: Resilient Cities at the Forefront.”
Peak migration was achieved in 2015, at 244 million refugees and IDPs, and cities, which already house more the 50 percent of the world’s population, will take on another 2.5 billion people in the next 33 years.
Suffice it to say, without a resilience strategy for accommodating the influx, some U.S. cities could end up finding themselves overwhelmed:
When it occurs without a plan in place, mass migration has the potential to aggravate a city’s existing stresses. Higher population density can pose unanticipated pressures on already strained infrastructure, resources, and the delivery of city services. Settlement patterns affect this further as migrants often have to move to already marginalized neighborhoods. Much of the new population growth occurs in informal and unplanned areas of the city, amid existing vulnerable populations. This often creates perceived and real competition for jobs and basic services, intensifying social tensions between long-term urban residents, economic migrants, and displaced populations, who already face unique vulnerabilities due to legal barriers to entry, limited economic resources, and broad discrimination. When residents believe newcomers are the cause of increased competition over job opportunities or deteriorating living conditions, sudden large-scale influxes of new arrivals can exacerbate existing tensions and xenophobia. Populist politics and violent extremism undermine social cohesion.
Developing a preventative resilience strategy requires cities form local, national and even international partnerships to integrate migrants into how to manage affordable housing, energy and transportation systems.
New York City has gone so far as to establish a city-level office for integrating newcomers, the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, addressing workforce, poverty and service accessibility concerns.
Immigrants stabilized Pittsburgh’s flagging workforce by taking on positions in emerging industries because the city’s resilience strategy, OnePGH, includes the goal of attracting 20,000 new residents in the next decade. Migrants revitalize communities with their businesses employing locals, strengthen cities’ tax bases and grow the economy.
Refugees and IDPs often face numerous hurdles upon arriving in their new hometowns, including the language barrier and discrimination. In 2016, the city of Los Angeles launched GeoHub, an open data portal that among other things maps immigration service centers and monitors changing neighborhood demographics. That way L.A. can better plan services and infrastructure projects meeting communities’ needs.
L.A.’s Path to Citizenship program further established 73 “citizenship corners” at libraries providing naturalization resources for its more than 700,000 residents eligible for citizenship.
New York City offers a municipal ID, IDNYC, to undocumented immigrants so they can access government and financial services like bank accounts, prescription medicine discounts and bikeshare memberships among other benefits. Cardholders can’t be asked their immigration status, and the city is fighting in court to destroy all information linking them to ID applications. A total of 1,030,000 vulnerable undocumented immigrants can now safely report crimes and seek medical treatment thanks to the program.
San Francisco’s Office of Financial Empowerment has teamed up with participating partners like the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco on a program called Bank on San Francisco, which helps migrants open no- or low-fee accounts with no minimum balance and their first overdraft charges waived.
The Chicago New Americans Plan will establish centers to help immigrants obtain streamlined business licenses, in addition to navigating the city’s municipal and health codes.
One other tool in the municipal toolbox is advocacy at the state and federal level, like L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti leading other U.S. mayors in a Day of Immigration Action. According to the report:
“[T]hey can push national actors to reevaluate existing labor laws that might pose undue obstacles to entrance into the economy, stunting the growth of both the city and its residents,” reads the report. “They can look anew at housing and social service policies that may inhibit the absorption of new populations as well as the vitality of a city’s existing residents.”
Dave Nyczepir is a News Editor at Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.