How might encouraging immigrants to move to American cities improve the lives of recent arrivals? Cities are a different animal when compared to rural and suburban areas. New immigrants moving to cities have many more choices available. The density of modern cities provides many more opportunities for living, shopping, and working. The greater prospect of being able to connect with people who have come before them and share similar roots is an enticement. Cities and urban areas provide more of an understanding and accepting atmosphere for different ethnic individuals, as well as services available from government and non-profits. “Over the past 25 years, many American cities have absorbed huge numbers of foreign immigrants, whose energies and skills have transformed the economies and social makeup of these cities.
The American urban experience, of immigrants reviving aging inner-cities, sharply contrasts with that of Europe, where immigrants often cluster in large cities but remain marginalized economically and socially, imposing many costs and becoming seen as a long-term drag on growth and vitality. The immigrant “bonus” for U.S. cities, however, breaks down on closer inspection. Some U.S. cities attract many immigrants and receive tangible benefits from them. Others do not. And among those cities that attract high numbers of immigrants and are boosted, some do so organically, without any explicit plan, while others apply self-conscious and rigorous policies towards immigrant-attraction and promotion of immigrant success. In this paper, we examine the differences among American cities in attracting immigrants – and what happens when immigrants arrive. We also describe some practical lessons for cities, both in the U.S. and Europe that wish to attract immigrants in order to achieve economic and social benefits. All of these factors combined help to reduce the feelings of isolation and offer greater approval” (coe.int, 2015).
To what extent can a significant illegal alien population pose a problem? America’s exceptional status as a “nation of immigrants” is being challenged by globalization, which is making both migration and terrorism much easier. The biggest challenge for policymakers is distinguishing illusory immigration problems from real problems. One thing is quite clear: The favored approach of recent years-a policy of benign neglect-is no longer tenable. “Illegal immigration into the United States is massive in scale. More than 10 million undocumented aliens currently reside in the U.S., and that population is growing by 700,000 per year. On one hand, the presence of so many aliens is a powerful testament to the attractiveness of America. On the other hand, it is a sign of how dangerously open our borders are.
Typical illegal aliens come to America primarily for better jobs and in the process add value to the U.S. economy. However, they also take away value by weakening the legal and national security environment. When three out of every 100 people in America are undocumented (or, rather, documented with forged and faked papers), there is a profound security problem. Even though they pose no direct security threat, the presence of millions of undocumented migrants distorts the law, distracts resources, and effectively creates a cover for terrorists and criminals. In other words, the real problem presented by illegal immigration is security, not the supposed threat to the economy. Indeed, efforts to curtail the economic influx of migrants actually worsen the security dilemma by driving many migrant workers underground, thereby encouraging the culture of illegality. A non-citizen guest worker program is an essential component of securing the border, but only if it is the right program” (heritage.org).
How can organized religious groups help or stand in the way of the process? Jacksonville is fairly typical of the southern United Sates with Protestant denominations making up the clear majority and Catholics constituting the remainder. The rivalries are not in the Muslin vs Christian variety per se but if apparent tend to be much more localized in behavior and substance. A typical example, “Christian leader on immigration tells Jacksonville pastors immigrants a ‘blessing,’ not a threat” Some Christians are fearful of immigrants, Pastor Matthew Soerens of Jacksonville knows what he talking about. He points to a Pew survey showing that a slight majority of white evangelicals see immigrants, those here legally and not, as a threat to the U.S., to its jobs, customs and values. “Maybe they’re a blessing,” he said. “Maybe they’re people God has sent to us, as a blessing.”
They’re also a boon to the economy and culture of the U.S., he said, adding that even the costs of undocumented immigrants are outweighed by the taxes they pay and the work ethic they bring. “Immigration itself is an entrepreneurial act,” … “Churches have long been a key player in helping immigrants adjust to life in America. Yet it’s rare that immigration is brought up in church services, he said, and a recent poll showed that an overwhelming majority of evangelicals say their views on immigration are driven by factors other than their Christianity. The Bible, though, has much to say about immigrants, said Soerens, who repeatedly cited the chapter and verse of salient points. “Ger,” a Hebrew word that translates to immigrant, appears 92 times in the Old Testament, he noted. And Biblical heroes Abraham, Rebekah, Joseph, Ruth, David and Paul were immigrants. So too was Jesus, for that matter” (Jacksonville.com, 2015).
What legal barriers exist to help or stand in the way of the process? Religious organizations are the ones that probably have the best chance of reaching out to the immigrant and ethnic populations. The main problem lies in the political structure and the tails of immigrants trying to navigate the maze of the nation’s immigration laws. “In the pews of the First Baptist Church of Orlando, where thousands of evangelical Christians gather on Sundays to worship and sing, a change of heart is happening on the once toxic issue of immigration. Two years ago, national evangelical leaders began to speak out in favor of legislation to give legal status to immigrants in the United States illegally. Now, as Congress is about to start a debate on overhauling the immigration system, conservative Christians, once inclined to take a hard line on immigrants they viewed as lawbreakers, are consulting their Bibles and coming around to the pastors’ view.
Accord has been less broad among the faithful. In a poll released in March by the Public Religion Research Institute and the Brookings Institution, white evangelical Protestants were the least likely of the religious groups surveyed to support a path to citizenship for immigrants here illegally, with 56 percent of them favoring that approach. Among Hispanic Catholics, the group expressing the most support, 74 percent said they would allow those immigrants to become citizens. Only 41 percent of white evangelicals who identify with the Tea Party supported a path to citizenship, according to the survey” (nytimes, 2015).
But many pastors in largely white churches have been spurred to action on immigration by preachers in Hispanic and immigrant churches, who have seen rapid growth in their congregations and have ministered to many followers who spoke of living in fear because they lacked legal papers. The shift among evangelical Christians could have a powerful effect on the fight in Washington, as Republican lawmakers, including many who have opposed any amnesty for illegal immigrants, look to see how much they can support measures to bring those immigrants into the legal system without alienating conservative voters.
Will the implementation of an economic revitalization plan involving immigrants work? As numerous studies have documented, immigration has re-emerged over the past 25 years as a potent force influencing the size and composition of the population in U.S. cities. The impact on population growth has a corresponding positive impact on wages, housing prices, rents, and cultural diversity. Immigration has a positive influence on metro areas by reversing population losses, expanding the workforce, boosting home values, and reducing vacancy and foreclosure problems. Studies find that immigration and economic growth of metro areas go hand in hand. In light of the well-documented contributions of immigrants in local communities throughout the United States, there are several recommendations local, state, and national policymakers should bear in mind: Policies of inclusion and welcome, which help grow opportunities for integration into a local area, are important at the local, state, and federal level. In particular, access to language and cultural competency learning, information about local resources, and civic engagement opportunities are important components of integration processes.
“Partnerships between the immigrant and native-born business and entrepreneurship community are important for ensuring that immigrant business owners are aware of the business resources available in a place (such as the local chamber of commerce and other business organizations). Entrepreneurs’ access to credit and capital—through microloan programs, business incubators in local communities, and other methods—can also help spur immigrant small business growth, new markets, and job creation. At the national level, policymakers should enact comprehensive immigration reform that modernizes the U.S. immigration system, creating the necessary legal pathways that work for entrepreneurs, innovators, students, families, businesses, employers, and all types of workers.
Immigration reform, in addition to recognizing that immigrant entrepreneurs come through all immigration pathways—family, employment, refugee, and others—should also ensure better recognition of foreign-earned credentials in licensed professions so that skilled immigrants’ talent isn’t wasted in the places in which they already reside in the U.S. Immigrant integration strategies should be a component of comprehensive immigration reform. In addition to modernizing and streamlining visa pathways, clearing backlogs, and providing a pathway to citizenship for the undocumented population, reforms must provide immigrants and the communities in which they live with the tools to prosper. For effective legislative outcomes, cities and towns interested in pursuing immigrant integration and welcoming must ensure their own voices and perspectives reach the ears of national policymakers.
And national leaders in Washington must listen to what local leaders are telling them about what’s going on in their communities. To make the most of local immigration recruitment, development, and welcoming initiatives, there needs to be a thoughtful, comprehensive effort to modernize the U.S. immigration system. In the meantime, local places will continue to compete for human capital. Those cities which welcome the initiative and drive of immigrants will not only experience economic and social dividends, but will be poised to prosper even more under a new era of immigration reform” (immagrationpolicy.org, 2015).
Coe.int, (2015). Retrieved February 4, 2015 from
http://www.coe.int/t/dg4/cultureheritage/culture/cities/Publication/Zachary.pdf Heritage.org, (2015). Retrieved February 4, 2015 from http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2006/03/the-real-problem-with-immigration-and- the-real-solution Immagrationpolicy, (2015). Retrieved February 4, 2015 from http://www.immigrationpolicy.org/sites/default/files/docs/ revitalizationinheartlandofamerica.pdf Jacksonville.com, (2015). Retrieved February 4, 2015 from http://jacksonville.com/news/metro/2013-04-02/story/christian-leader-immigration-tells- jacksonville-pastors-immigrants Nytimes, (2015). Retrieved February 4, 2015 from