Day #016: Tap into the economic power of immigration

The strongest case for Richmond embracing immigrants and refugees: economics.

Inspired by Michael Bierut’s 100 Day Project, 100 Days to a Better RVA strives to introduce and investigate unique ideas to improving the city of Richmond. View the entire project here and the intro here.

  • Idea: House child illegal immigrants from Central America while they wait for hearings, join Welcoming Cities and Counties, and create an action plan for welcoming immigrants to RVA.
  • Difficulty: 4 — Immigration has always been a politically toxic issue in the US. Making progress means putting one’s political career on the line.

Lawrenceville, Virginia caught headlines recently because of residents’ outspoken response against the attempted federal housing of about 500 unaccompanied minors from Central America at former St. Paul’s College.

Richmond should step up to the plate and offer to house the children. In addition to bringing federal money to Richmond in leases and employment opportunities, the project would help the local economy as dozens of FEMA workers would move temporarily to the Richmond area.

Furthermore, it’s the right thing to do. On most issues related to immigration, the Federal government is and will remain deadlocked for the foreseeable future, but there are things cities can do in the meantime. This is an opportunity for Richmond to take a leadership role.

Asylum for refugees is one of the most powerful institutions offered by the United States to the world. As New Jersey senior Senator Bob Menendez pointed out this past Wednesday, some of the children seeking asylum are those who have been faced with “join [this gang] or die” and girls that have been raped and fear being raped again if they return to their home countries. 2/3 of illegal immigrant children requesting asylum in 2014 have been approved. Asylum is simply an institution that trumps, “not our kids, not our problem.” We should help these children for the simple fact that they are children in need and we can.

Refugees in Richmond aren’t an uncommon occurrence. Nearly 350 of the roughly 58,000 refugees that enter the US each year locate to Richmond. ReEstablish Richmond is a 501 (c)(3) that helps these individuals overcome traditional problems facing Richmonders in addition to helping with cultural and language differences, education, and transportation.

In fact, despite facing these unique issues, most immigrants add social and civic value to American cities–in addition to making those cities’ economies stronger.

According to the Brookings Institution, immigrants are 30% more likely to start a business than people born in the US. In 2011, a US Chamber of Commerce report stated, “Our compilation shows that immigrants significantly benefit the US economy by creating new jobs, and complementing the skills of the US native workforce, with a net positive impact on wage rates overall.”

Even the White House acknowledged, “Immigrants started 25 percent of the highest-growth companies between 1990-2005, and these companies employ an estimated 220,000 people inside the US. Immigrant business owners generate $67 billion of the $577 billion in US business income…and in the 1990s alone, skilled immigrants helped boost GDP by between 1.4 and 2.4 percent.”

Research done by the National Research Council and the National Academy of Sciences in 1997 which was backed up in 2007 by the Council of Economic Advisors found that immigrants and their children generate public revenue $80,000 in excess of what they receive in local, state, and federal benefits. In fact, most welfare is limited to permanent legal residents who have lived in the US for five years.

Towns are starting to acknowledge that welcoming all immigrants can be a powerful boon to the economy and society. Richmond should join the 37 cities who have already joined Welcoming Cities and Counties, a network of cities in America who are at least discussing changing local immigration policies.

Furthermore, Richmond should adopt a similar system as Dayton’s “Welcome Dayton – Immigrant Family City.” In addition to starting businesses, importing new ideas, and developing international business contacts, immigrants help revitalize neighborhoods in decline and boost the labor force which is in decline because of our demographics. Low-skilled workers take jobs that most Americans don’t want while highly-skilled workers bring skills that US employers desperately need. Immigration isn’t a negative sum game. It isn’t even a zero sum game. It’s a positive sum game. For every new worker there is a new customer, a new household, and new ideas.

European immigrants manned the factories, fought the Civil War, and established countless towns and cities across this country’s heartland. Indian immigrants helped turn Silicon Valley into the technology center of the world. People will continue to find ways to join and contribute to this country despite quotas, border fences, or xenophobia.

Jon Stewart recently joked, “we have always been a nation of immigrants who hate the newer immigrants.” Richmond can’t control federal policy, but maybe it’s time to recognize most immigrants for what they are: people willing to fight overwhelming odds1 to simply be a part of this country–in order to realize increased opportunities for themselves and their posterity while adding their own unique chapter to the American tale.

Love this idea? Think it’s terrible? Have one that’s ten times better? Head over to the 100 Days to a Better RVA Facebook page and join in the conversation.

Photo by: Sue Waters

  1. Legally and illegally. 
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Aaron Williams

Aaron Williams loves music, basketball (follow @rvaramnews!), family, learning, and barbecue sauce.

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