Panel Paper: Municipal Officials and Immigration As an Economic Development Strategy

Friday, November 9, 2018
Marriott Balcony A - Mezz Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Abigail Fisher Williamson, Trinity College

An increasing number of cities and towns across the United States sees immigration as an economic development strategy. This paper investigates what factors lead local officials to see immigrants as economically valuable, as well as whether views on the economic value of immigrants are associated with particular municipal responses to immigrants. To address these questions, the paper draws on the 2016 Municipal Responses to Immigrants Survey (MRIS16) – the first of its kind to interview both elected and appointed leaders from a random national sample of immigrant destinations. Respondents include 1,400 local officials across a diverse array of 814 immigrant destinations – cities and towns greater than 5,000 in population that are at least 5% foreign-born. Within each municipality, the MRIS16 was sent to the city manager (or a high-ranking appointed official), the police chief, and two elected officials.

The survey demonstrates that the majority of local officials agree that serving immigrants is important to maintaining the local workforce and encouraging economic development and fewer than 15% of officials disagrees with either one of these statements. Holding constant a range of individual and contextual characteristics, politically conservative officials are less likely to see serving immigrants as important for local economic prosperity. On the other hand, city size, the proportion of the foreign-born population, and the proportion of the city engaged in agricultural or manufacturing employment are positively associated with seeing immigrants as economically valuable. Interestingly, officials often misperceive the size, growth, and characteristics of their immigrant populations in ways that may shape how cities approach immigration as an economic development strategy.