Immigration & America, part 2

Last year I blogged about the controversial Alabama immigration law, HB 56. Today, that law is set to be reviewed by the Alabama legislature. While many have argued that the law has been successful in its main goal of driving illegal immigrants out of Alabama, the unintended consequences will have a lasting impact.

In a lucky confluence for those fighting against HB56, two high profile arrests have prompted the governor to reconsider the law. In November, executives from both Honda and Mercedes were detained for failure to provide all the necessary documents when driving. The targeting of high profile business men, instead of undocumented immigrants, was quite embarrassing for officials. Alabama is relying on foreign investment for much needed jobs. Another city, Cincinnati, Ohio, found out the hard way that attitudes towards immigrants can have unintended consequences. On November 30, 2011 Chiquita announced that they were moving from Cincinnati to Charlotte, North Carolina. While Charlotte provided monetary incentives, as well as access to international flights:
“Cincinnati also showed a lack of initiative when it comes to encouraging a more diverse business community in the city.We have not been open to the professional spanish speaking community. That was a complaint Chiquita had” (Fox19).
In even another example, it was announced in November that a Chinese company is reconsidering locating in Alabama, over concerns about the new immigration law.

As my last blog on this topic highlighted, there are cities that are attempting to reverse this toxic rhetoric about immigrants, and shift the debate to what immigrants can bring into a community. On October 5, 2011, the city government of Dayton, Ohio, published its “Welcome to Dayton” Report. While a seemingly mundane action, the subtitle of the report, Immigrant Friendly City, began making ripples throughout the media. Soon, the report, and its goals, became the subject of a piece on NPR and other mainstream media outlets. In stark contrast to the legislatures in Arizona and Alabama, here was a city who wanted immigrants to come settle into their city.

The history of Dayton, Ohio reads like an all too familiar tale of the quintessential American city – once a bustling manufacturing town, now poised on a precipice of reinvention or destruction. While dramatic, one needs to only look to other cities such as Cleveland and Detroit, to witness the mass migration out of former manufacturing cities; the empty, foreclosed, and abandoned houses. Dayton’s population has been declining since 1970, and saw a staggering decline of 14.8% from 2000 to 2010. The 2010 census shows that Dayton is currently not very diverse, 3% of residents are hispanic, the remaining 97% are split between whites and blacks (NY Times Mapping America). This leads me to ask an important question: how do cities attract investment, industry, and entrepreneurs? Can immigrants be an answer?

The Welcome to Dayton Report is an action plan to encourage immigrants to chose to migrate to Dayton. This includes tackling confusing bureaucracy, providing services in many languages, having more trained language professionals, and, most controversially, offering a special city ID card. This ID card has been put in a place to make it easier for immigrants to conduct business, regardless of their current immigration status. With an influx of immigrants, the city hopes to start seeing the impacts based on the ten benefits they outlined. Only time will tell if the plan will be successful, and if the community of Dayton responds positively. While recognizing the challenges, the city officials determined that the benefits outweigh the costs.

Feature Image: ColorLines

Colleen Valentine

Colleen is a former CCT Graduate Student.