By David Lubell, executive director of Welcoming America, and Rachel Peric, deputy director of Welcoming America
The promise of a revised Muslim ban anticipated for this week, along with the recent memos by the DHS targeting immigrants for deportation, are the latest in what many immigrant advocates expect to be a continuous onslaught of policy initiatives aimed at curbing immigration and restricting the freedoms of new Americans.
This is the wrong direction for our values and our economy, which draws on the contributions of immigrants in nearly every sector, from tech to healthcare to agriculture and construction. A growing number of places get this, and have come out in strong opposition to these orders and sought to send an alternative message to reassure residents and calm fears.
For instance, in his State of the City address Detroit Mayor Duggan affirmed that, “Detroit is going to stand as a pro-immigration, welcoming city and we're not going to waver from that." Such a view makes sense given that Detroit - and the State of Michigan - have long benefited from the social and economic contributions of migrants. In 2014 alone, immigrant-owned businesses in the state generated $608,400,000 in business income.
This welcoming response has been newly energized by the recent executive orders but draws on a movement that has quietly grown; over the last five years there has been a steady growth in places looking to distinguish themselves as inclusive communities for all residents. Today there are over 40 million Americans living in a welcoming community.
This growth has been driven largely by pragmatism; as community leaders confront changing demographics, along with stalled efforts nationally to pass comprehensive immigration reform, they have chosen to put in place policies that help them better govern in today’s more global community - one in which a quarter of American children is an immigrant or child of immigrants. For cities facing population decline, creating a welcoming environment is a way to attract new residents and revitalize local economies.
There is also a deeper imperative: as communities change, tensions between new and old residents don’t have to be a given, if an environment is created to build bridges rather than stoke fear. Rather than playing zero-sum games, we can capitalize on the talents and contributions of all residents.
Welcoming communities not only make symbolic commitments, but also tangibly work to put in place policies and practices that help all residents thrive. The playbook for welcoming communities is non-partisan and has been endorsed by a range of mainstream organizations because it includes activities that help create a more cohesive and prosperous society - things like helping immigrants learn English, making it easier for immigrants but also long-time residents to open a business or bank account, making healthcare more accessible, and demonstrating anyone who feels left behind now belongs. It also includes building trust between police and local residents, which ensures that all people - including the undocumented - feel comfortable reporting crimes, which ultimately leads to safer communities.
Communities have traditionally been ill equipped with the infrastructure needed to help newcomers adapt, and they are often even less equipped to help long-time residents make sense of the changes happening around them. Welcoming Cities as diverse as Nashville, Boise, Dayton, Louisville, and San Jose create a welcoming environment for all through projects where new neighbors work together to grow healthy food, or advocate for their children. These efforts create greater social cohesion and a stronger civic fabric for the community as a whole. They help people see each other as neighbors with common goals working for shared prosperity, and not the “other.” They also create tangible economic benefits for all residents.
The pain being inflicted on communities as a result of the Administration’s new policies is real; neighbors who have lived in a community for decades and established businesses are being torn from their families and livelihoods. Children are too afraid to come to school. In addition to raids and deportation, the Muslim ban is also sparking fear and separating families. We are seeing a rise in hate crimes and violence against immigrants, Muslims, and those perceived to be ‘other.’ And across the economy, from the people who put food on our tables to the nurses and doctors who care for us in hospitals, we are losing people that our communities depend on.
As more communities wake up to the impact of these efforts to stoke fear, and recognize that such policies are not in their self-interest, we hope they move beyond symbolic affirmations to do the important work of creating truly welcoming places where all residents can participate and contribute more fully to social, economic and civic life. American communities value immigrants, and we hope the Administration wakes up to this, too.