Oscar Avila, Chicago Tribune, September 13, 2006
To thrive, the Chicago region must integrate its Mexican population into the social and economic life of the area, according to a report released Wednesday.
The report, produced by a Chicago Council on Global Affairs task force, urged Mexican community leaders, local government and other institutions to focus on unleashing the potential of Mexican immigrants and their children through improving job training, home ownership, elementary education and political participation.
The authors said the topic is urgent now that 1 in 6 area residents is of Mexican descent, with the Mexican community expected to double by 2030.
“The success of Chicago in the future is linked to the success of the Mexican community,” said Clare Munana, president of Ancora Associates Inc. and one of the task force’s three co-chairs.
The diverse task force included the heads of the Illinois AFL-CIO and the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce as well as corporate CEOs, elected officials, philanthropists and social activists.
In an ideal environment, Mexican immigrants use their bilingual and bicultural skills to help make Chicago a center for international business and expand the local economy, the report’s authors argued.
In the worst-case scenario, Mexican immigrants continue to lag behind other groups in education level and income, becoming a drain on the region and a segregated underclass, the authors contended.
The report defined Mexicans as immigrants and their U.S.-born descendants.
The task force also called on Chicago Public Schools and suburban districts to expand programs that teach in English and Spanish as a way to encourage all residents to become bilingual. Silva conceded that the idea is controversial but said the Chicago economy would benefit in the long run.
The task force also recommended creating welcoming centers, modeled after the settlement houses that served European immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, that would help newcomers navigate government offices and register for English and civics classes.
The 125-page report presented a laundry list of suggestions — from making it easier for Mexican immigrants to get credit for the professional training they received in their homeland to encouraging suburban mayors to help Mexican entrepreneurs receive tax credits and other incentives.
Task force members tried to stress that these policies should be motivated by self-interest, not charity. The report warned that the “isolation and marginalization” of immigrants could cause social strife.
Task force members skirted the controversial question of how to address the state’s estimated 400,000 undocumented immigrants. Munana said the focus was the local environment for Mexicans, not federal immigration policy.
The report is available at www.thechicagocouncil.org