In Trump’s America, Does Immigration Remain an Engine for Growth?

There are plenty of constituencies looking ahead to Donald Trump’s presidency with trepidation, but perhaps none more so than immigrants. The words inscribed on the Statue of Liberty may call for the rest of the world to send us their huddled masses yearning to breathe free, but many in the American electorate apparently feel differently.

These Americans say they feel economically disenfranchised by immigration, and while it remains to be seen if Trump will build the wall along the Mexican border that he promised, or how he carries out his other campaign promises regarding immigration reform, there’s at least one area of the country where immigration has been a recent force for growth.

According to recent report released by Global Detroit, the Motor City’s comeback has been powered in part by immigration. Census data shows that Detroit’s U.S.-born population shrank 5.3 percent between 2010 and 2014, while the foreign-born population grew 12.7 percent during the same period. Global Detroit’s analysis of the American Community Survey one-year average also suggests that immigrants, as a share of the overall population in Detroit, grew 17.8 percent over the last five years.

Steve Tobocman, Global Detroit’s executive director, says the research highlights the importance of immigrants as a source of new homeowners or buyers of vacant commercial property in Detroit and 22 other Rust Belt cities. It’s critical, he says, to consider the nuances of how immigration affects the overall financial picture in places like Detroit.

“I do have concerns about what Trump’s immigration policies will be, given the rhetoric,” he says. “Trump has associated himself with those who don’t understand the economics of immigration. There’s no doubt we have real challenges in this country, but the answer is not ‘We’ll build a wall, close borders, cut off trade, and return to the prosperity of the 1950s.’”

On Trump’s website, he outlines a 10-point plan to “put America first,” including “reforming legal immigration to serve the best interests of America and its workers.” His plan for immigrants who aren’t criminals is somewhat vague, but he does talk about allowing people into the country based on their “likelihood of success” and ability to be financially self-sufficient.

Since its inception five years ago, Global Detroit has gained national recognition for its work promoting international workers to fill regional businesses’ unmet talent needs, catalyzing the growth and development of immigrant entrepreneurs, and encouraging immigration as a tool to increase competitive advantages in job creation, business growth, and community development.

Working with ProsperUS Detroit and the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation, Global Detroit has held international job fairs and helped immigrant entrepreneurs successfully apply for grants to expand their businesses and hire staff. The organization recently completed a six-month initiative in the Banglatown neighborhood, along the Detroit-Hamtramck border, that brought together Bengali, Yemeni, African-American, and white residents on a neighborhood improvement project that identified common concerns and priorities. Global Detroit is also working with Mayor Mike Duggan’s new Office of Immigrant Affairs and the Detroit City Council’s Immigration Task Force to shore up neighborhoods across the city.

At one time, Gov. Rick Snyder was an enthusiastic booster of Global Detroit’s efforts—a few years ago, he was fond of calling himself “the most pro-immigration governor in America.”  But that was before political gamesmanship in the presidential election turned immigration into a dirty word.

In 2014, Snyder vowed to make Michigan the second state, after Vermont, to launch a state-sponsored, federally approved effort to attract immigrants willing to invest money in U.S. projects and businesses in exchange for a path to citizenship. “Let’s hold our arms open and say, ‘Come to Michigan, this is the place to be,’ ” he said during a … Next Page »

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Sarah Schmid Stevenson is the editor of Xconomy Detroit/Ann Arbor. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET_AA

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