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Issue: 1241 Date: 6/5/2014
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Why U.S. should woo immigrants

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        Although Director of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson has promised that immigration and deportation policy reform is coming, he has offered a vague timeline for it - "pretty soon," he said last month on ABC's This Week.

        His comment is reflective of the slow and disorganized way the issue has been handled under President Barack Obama, who has presided over a record number of deportations.

        And the thing that gets lost in the general confusion and negative attitude surrounding immigration is that legal immigration brings great benefits - both financial and civic - to a community. Despite what's happening on the federal level, a number of local and state governments have realized this and are actively encouraging immigration - a strategy that should be part of any national reform.

        Forward-thinking governments in Michigan, Delaware and St. Louis are on board. In January, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder created the Office for New Americans. One of its priorities is to increase the state's employment visas by 50,000 in the next five years.

        Delaware is using its business-friendly policies to reach out to immigrants. Along with creating welcome centers and increasing the number of work visas and green card applications, the state sponsors bilingual "How to Do Business in Delaware" workshops.

        The Mosaic Project in St. Louis is a wide-ranging set of economic and social initiatives that includes local banks providing low-interest loans to new arrivals; chambers of commerce funding starter grants for immigrant businesses; language teachers and translators opening up the city and hospitals to newcomers; and colleges and local businesses designing internships and mentoring programs to encourage international students to stay after graduation.

        So why implement these immigration-friendly strategies? Nationally, 28 percent of small businesses were started by immigrants in 2011. In Michigan, immigrants created one-third of the state's jobs in the high-tech sector. Immigrants are 60 percent more likely to be entrepreneurs. According to the Fiscal Policy Institute, a New-York based think tank, immigrant businesses employed 4.7 million Americans and generated more than $776 billion in revenue.

        It's clear that immigrants bring entrepreneurial skills, risk-taking personalities and a can-do spirit that U.S. communities need. In Delaware, 10.5 percent of business owners are foreign-born, a large percentage given that immigrants are 8.4 percent of the state's population.

        In addition, St. Louis and Detroit are trying to make themselves attractive to immigrants because the cities are facing declining populations. Detroit, the most extreme case in the U.S. for a city of its size, has lost well over a million residents in the past 60 years. St. Louis wants to reverse its trend of population loss before it becomes more extreme.

        Population growth does not guarantee economic growth. Nor do all immigrants start lucrative businesses or create jobs. But history shows that welcoming a critical mass of new people and new minds greatly increases the odds that they will.

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