Frontera Fund News

These 3 Cities Get Immigration Right


American cities can learn a lot from these welcoming, innovative and prospering metropolises, according to a new study from the American Immigration Council.


It may be a thousand miles from the southern border, but Tennessee’s capital boasts an increasingly diverse population where immigrants make up 29 percent of “Main Street” business owners.

For the Music City’s immigrant community, culture and connections are orchestrated from Casa Azafrán, an ensemble of nonprofits that offer education, financial empowerment, immigration legal services, health care and arts workshops. 

Mexicans, Peruvians, Indians, Somalians, Americans: They all intermingle and can learn from each other through the center’s potpourri of programs.

One of those nonprofits, Conexión Américas, hosts courses in Spanish that give immigrants the skills and know-how they need to launch a business. In 2014, 70 aspiring entrepreneurs graduated from the Negocio Próspero program, which helped nurture four new or expanded businesses.

Conexión Américas also has a community commercial kitchen, Mesa Komal, which in 2014 provided space for 14 foodie entrepreneurs – including a handful of multi-ethnic food trucks.

Casa Azafrán’s Global Education Center offers classes in capoeira, tango and drumming, as well as African, Chinese and Indian dance.

In addition, the Nashville Mayor’s office created the Mayor’s New Americans Advisory Council to help connect immigrant communities with city government. 



Stroll through Chicago’s “Little Village,” past colorful murals, quinceañera dresses in shop windows, and the smell of hot tortillas, and you’ll get a taste of how immigrants are flavoring the Midwest. In the Windy City, immigrants make up 38 percent of “Main Street” business owners (those involved in retail, accommodation, food and other neighborhood services).  

The city is promoting entrepreneurship with its New Americans Plan, which lowers barriers to entry for immigrant-owned businesses. It reduced the number of necessary business licenses and license fees, so business owners can go through a one-stop process. This benefits not just immigrants but all entrepreneurs.

The plan’s multilingual Restaurant Startup Guide and Program streamlined the process of applications, zoning and location reviews, reducing the risk that owners have to make expensive last-minute changes. 

Chicago has also set up multiple centers – catering to the ethnic and cultural differences in each neighborhood – where aspiring entrepreneurs can learn the nitty gritty of opening a business. 

Plus, a series of five expos in 2015 provided opportunities for businesspeople to network and consult with experts in finance, business planning, licensing and taxes. 



Not long after Arizona passed harsh anti-immigrant bill SB 1070, this Ohio city opened the door to immigrants by launching the Welcome Dayton plan. “Communities across America,” it read, “are at a crossroad: to welcome and integrate new residents and help them on a path to citizenship, or to allow old stereotypes, fears and misconceptions to hinder future success.”

The plan encourages immigrants to move to Dayton, helps immigrant rights organizations work together, and fosters small business development.

To encourage undocumented immigrants to overcome their fear of reporting crime, Dayton put $30,000 toward helping immigrants apply for U-Visas. These visas, for victims of crime, grant undocumented immigrants four years of lawful immigration status, plus the ability to apply for permanent residency.

In addition, Dayton’s Small Business Development center meets with entrepreneurs one-on-one to assist them in developing their ideas into successful ventures.