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Torres, Herman argue for immigrant-friendly cities

By Kevin Milliken for La Prensa

 

April 30, 2012: A pair of Cleveland-area Latino leaders are calling on their own city and other communities across Ohio to become more immigrant-friendly as a means to shake their Rust Belt past and build a new economy that could lead to more jobs and prosperity in the future.

 

Immigration attorney Richard Herman gives Cleveland an ‘F’ for its lack of effort in trying to attract Latino and other immigrant families. He grades Ohio much the same way, but admits there is progress being made in some cities across the state. Herman is a former board member of Global Cleveland, which was started as a way to attract immigrants to repopulate and revitalize the Rock-n-Roll city.


Richard Herman


“There are cities that don’t necessarily have a lot of immigrants, but they see immigrants as an asset not a liability,” Herman said. “So they start changing their conversation in their policy-making and really the whole ecosystem of how a city operates.”

 

He cited Dayton as an example of what can be done to put out the welcome mat for an immigrant population, not just well-educated transplants who add to existing engineering and technology professionals in a community. The mayor there started Welcome Dayton to centralize the effort.

 

“The mayor’s on national TV saying ‘we want immigrants,’” Herman said. “He wants people to buy homes, start small businesses.”

 

“In many Midwest industrial communities that are struggling with a population decrease, one of the solutions is to actually engage the populations that are moving into the urban core,” echoed Roberto Torres, a Toledo-area native and president of T & R Group LLC, a consulting firm that specializes in Latino and international business development. “The solution is right there before us and that is continued immigration investment in our communities.”

 

The two men cite Baltimore and Philadelphia as two major U.S. cities actively trying to engage immigrant families as a means of repopulating their communities and reinvigorating their local economies.

 

Cities such as Chicago have been built with the blood, sweat, and tears of immigrants. According to the U.S. Census, by 2010 Chicago had a population that was 28.9 percent Latino and 5.5 percent Asian; 21.1 percent were foreign born and 35.3 percent spoke a language other than English at home. 

 

“I think they’re trying to find a way to communicate to the general populous that immigrant families are not a threat, but an opportunity,” said Torres. “I think people confuse the two.”

 

Many times immigrants are seen as poverty-stricken and a drain on government resources. The immigration battles in Arizona and elsewhere have done nothing to dissuade that popularly-held notion. A U.S. Supreme Court decision expected this summer may deepen that anxiety and apathy toward immigrants, once seen as the backbone of US-America’s promise as a land of opportunity, not as a group who take away jobs and resources from people in the U.S. legally.

 

“We sell the immigrant population short when we say that they’re only low-skilled and manual labor,” said Torres. “Sometimes I think some communities only have a strategy of attracting and recruiting the highly-skilled, technology-inclined population. Neither one of those approaches is the solutions to cities. I think you have to have a combination of the two.”

 

Critical of Cleveland’s efforts

 

The two men are highly critical of how Cleveland’s efforts have evolved into attracting highly-skilled, high-income immigrants as a means to boost that city’s economy. While it is home to the world-renowned Cleveland Clinic, the pair co-authored an opinion piece in Crain’s Cleveland Business, admonishing city leaders not to forget Latino and other immigrants “as we prepare to demolish thousands of abandoned but inhabitable homes that could house Cleveland's new immigrant families and taxpayers, but instead seem slated to become urban farms.”

 

“Attracting medical immigrants with high-skilled backgrounds may be good for one institution such as a medical institution or a university, but does that mean those ten individuals are going to be living in our urban core?” wondered Torres. “Or does that mean it’s a boom if you gain for the suburban communities? What does that actually do to benefit our urban core? You need to have both.

 

The business consultant pointed to the explosion of Latino population growth in Cleveland and other Ohio cities, sometimes by as much as 200 percent between the 2000 and 2010 census counts. He called Latino immigrants a future economic force, but only a snapshot of the growing influence of immigrants of all nationalities in cities and suburbs alike.

 

“What that tells you is: ‘therein lies your solution,’” said Torres. “If you’re seeing people actually moving into your community, what you want to do is spur an incentive or spur an attitude that embraces continue immigration into that community.”
 

Global Detroit and Welcoming Michigan

 

The immigration lawyer also helped launch Global Detroit, what he called “a much deeper, more powerful conversation than is going on anywhere else in the country.” Herman stated Detroit is trying to tie in a lot of puzzle pieces, including globalization, foreign-direct investment, exports, imports, and immigration into one economic development package. Since its auto industry crash and the related financial fallout of the city and population loss, Detroit leaders are working hard to reinvent the city’s image in the minds of not just a national audience, but its global reputation. “That may seem overly bold,” Herman admitted.

 

Michigan governor Rick Snyder has publically announced his immigrant-friendly policy and believes that “immigration is a key driver of economic growth.” [Source: Michigan Radio, July 18, 2012]  


Roberto Torres

 

Attorney Herman has pointed out that the Brookings Institution, a nonprofit public policy organization based in Washington, DC, has started a Global Cities Initiative. Some of the think tank’s staff members will address a meeting in Columbus on May 9.

 

“They’re basically saying cities need to think about global strategies and global engagement,” said Herman. “Immigrants are a big part of that.”

 

The immigration attorney/advocate admitted there is a negative attitude toward globalization in general, and immigrants in particular—especially across the Midwest. Herman explained that manufacturing-heavy Rust Belt Cities have been hit hard by globalization and related job losses.

“We’ve been the punching bag of globalization,” Herman said. “So we have to change the conversation, about how to harvest the fruits of globalization.”   

 

He pointed to an International Monetary Fund statistic that 87 percent of the world’s economic growth in the next five years will take place outside the United States. Such global demand can lead to opportunities to increase exports.

 

“That’s where job creation is going to come from,” Herman explained. “I don’t think a lot of Midwest cities think this way.”

 

He joked that many people on the east or west sides of Cleveland “don’t travel across the Cuyahoga River let alone 12 time zones.” The same has been said many times about Toledoans crossing the Maumee River.

 

Midwest animus towards Chinese

 

Herman related a conversation he had with a Toledo businessman about the Chinese investment firm Dashing Pacific and its purchase of the Marina District last year.

 

“There’s a definite animus in the Midwest toward the Chinese,” he said. “That’s a shame because we could actually be courting a lot of our money back to the U.S. from China. There’s a real strategy in being welcoming. I know some business leaders here in Ohio who are not interested in attracting Chinese businesses here and Chinese investment. They don’t feel the Chinese are serious.”

 

Torres pointed to the series of trips Toledo Mayor Mike Bell and an economic development entourage made to China to secure additional foreign investment.

 

“What was very prevalent was the dialogue about why is he going over there, the Chinese are buying our property, why would he try to sell to them,” he recalled. “When you hear rhetoric like that, it goes around and people understand that’s not an attitude that will support an immigrant-friendly environment. We have to change that rhetoric.”

 

Herman predicted a pattern of Chinese investment in the United States similar to what Japanese investors did in the 1970s and 1980s. Now, like then, China holds much of US-America’s debt and a huge foreign currency reserve. He explained that Japanese companies came state-side to build manufacturing with those reserves. A good example of that are the Honda auto plants near Marysville in Central Ohio.

 

“I think the Chinese are going to do that, too,” Herman said. “It’s going to depend on what states and what cities are the most welcoming.”

 

The immigration attorney related the story of a Chinese business associate who recently had moved to Cleveland and was hoping to attract other Chinese investment to that city. But he found no chambers of commerce in Northeast Ohio who had marketing materials printed in Chinese.

 

Herman explained the man invested his own money putting together a video using existing images of Cleveland, but translated by a journalist so he could return to his homeland and “sell” the city as a good place to put their capital. The video has been broadcast on Chinese TV, but the businessman had to do it on his own.

 

“Immigrants are agents of globalization,” Herman said. “Immigrants are the bridge to global markets. They’re a bridge to renewed discussions on diversity, inclusion, and global activity. If you don’t have a lot of immigrants to begin with, you’re landlocked and you’re insular, you’re Midwestern—you’re going to be left behind, you’re going to be backwater.”

 

Dayton’s civic initiative won’t focus on foreign investment as much as it does invite a new generation of immigrants to buy and renovate abandoned homes, build neighborhoods, launch businesses and join the mosaic there.

“The salt-of-the-Earth immigrants, the mom-and-pop shop immigrants are critical to neighborhood stabilization and revitalization,” said Herman, explaining population loss and the foreclosure crisis has left a lot of Midwest cities with a surplus of vacant and abandoned housing stock that is crumbling, but can be saved.

 

Toledo accepts matricula consular

 

Toledo, for its part, began accepting the Mexican consular card—matricula consular—as an official form of identification several years ago, after seeing migrant farmworker families settle in Northwest Ohio. Virtually every Latino family that has stayed in the Glass City can point to their roots as migrant farm families who saw better opportunity for their children and future generations. Yet Toledo’s Latino population continues to struggle for acceptance within the larger community.

 

“I think what we’re going to find in Toledo are similar challenges to what Cleveland has found,” said Torres. “You have a population that looks at immigration and sees it in a negative light.”

 

When the pair talks about cities like Cleveland and Toledo becoming immigrant-friendly communities, they hope government leaders will set aside incentive dollars to recruit international companies and immigrant entrepreneurs into those cities.

 

“That has yet to be broached in either of those communities,” Torres pointed out.

 

Herman now travels the country speaking on behalf of The Partnership for a New American Economy, an effort started by New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg and media mogul Rupert Murdoch.

 

“It’s all about trying to change the conversation from this vitriolic conversation to a more welcoming conversation,” he said. “We can leverage immigration to grow our economy and create jobs for Americans.”

 

Editor’s Note: Welcoming Michigan hosts a public celebration to announce the launch of its statewide initiative highlighting the contributions of Michigan’s immigrants. Welcoming Michigan believes that when Michigan welcomes immigrants, Michigan thrives.

What: A News Conference for the Welcoming Michigan Initiative Launch;
When: Monday, May 7, 2012, 10:00 AM;
Where: Rivard Plaza, 1340 E. Atwater St., Detroit, just east of the Renaissance Center;
Why: According to its press frelease, “When it comes to immigration, it’s easy to let differences separate us, but it’s not in
anyone’s best interest. At Welcoming Michigan, we seek to build mutual respect among foreign-born and U.S.-born people who call Michigan home. Michigan is the only state that lost population between 2000 and 2010.  Michigan’s immigrants account for large and growing shares of the economy and the electorate, and can help turn the state around.  We have established four local Welcoming committees in focus communities in Metro Detroit and West Michigan.  In the coming months, we’ll seek to expand that work and share our message.  When Michigan welcomes immigrants, Michigan thrives.”

Welcoming Michigan is a project of the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center with support from the Ford Foundation and W.K. Kellogg Foundation.  To learn more about Welcoming Michigan, visit Facebook.  http://www.facebook.com/welcomingmichigan.

 

On the Internet: http://michiganradio.org/post/snyder-other-leaders-want-more-immigrant-friendly-michigan

 
Copyright © 1989 to 2012 by [LaPrensa Publications Inc.]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 05/01/12 18:12:03 -0700.

 

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