Immigrants and Urban Revival in Post-Industrial America

Baltimore
Baltimore
The city of Baltimore has promoted development through immigration in a number of ways, such as offering seed funding and technical assistance to the Latino Economic Development Center, which provides consultation, training and micro-credit for immigrant entrepreneurs.(Getty Images)

Local governments in the rust belt are working to socially integrate immigrants in order to promote local development. Here's how they're achieving success.

This is a guest post co-authored by Professor Felipe Filomeno and undergraduate students at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Although the decline of manufacturing is a global phenomenon, it has been especially pronounced in the old industrial-urban centers of the Northeast and Midwest of the United States. As industrial production moved away from those centers, so did high-paying, unionized jobs for middle-class residents, who increasingly moved to the suburbs. From Baltimore, Maryland, to St. Louis, Missouri, post-industrial cities experienced population decline, economic problems and urban decay, forming an arc on the U.S. map known as the “rust belt”.

Many middle-class Americans still perceive these areas as undesirable places to live – but for immigrants from underdeveloped countries, these are places of opportunity. Here, we examine what local governments in the rust belt are doing to socially integrate immigrants in order to promote local development.

Economic development policies: A number of municipalities in the rust belt have initiatives to turn immigrants into engines of local economic growth. Baltimore offered seed funding and technical assistance to the Latino Economic Development Center, which provides consultation, training and micro-credit for immigrant entrepreneurs. Detroit helped establish a local office of Upwardly Global, which is dedicated to integrating high-skilled immigrants into the workforce. Detroit was also one of the actors behind the establishment of a state run EB-5 regional center in the city, a USCIS designated service organization that works with potential EB-5 investors. The U.S. government issues EB-5 visas to foreign individuals committed to invest one million dollars in the country, creating or preserving at least ten jobs for American workers. The investment can be reduced to $500,000 if it happens in designated high-unemployment or rural areas. Cincinnati is taking steps to have areas of the city designated as such. St. Louis cooperates with the U.S. Small Business Administration to support entrepreneurship among immigrants. All these policies turn immigrant integration into a win-win game for foreigners and native citizens.

Multicultural policies: Across the rust belt, one can find local policies that recognize and promote cultural diversity. In some cases, these policies include measures against discrimination based on nationality. Baltimore disseminates public information in Spanish and supports an annual Latino festival. Philadelphia offers translation services to facilitate the access of immigrants to city resources. In Cleveland, the month of June is celebrated as an “Immigrant Heritage Month”. Detroit officially declared the city a place where foreigners and natives can live together and appreciate cultural diversity. Baltimore, Cincinnati, Detroit, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and Dayton, Ohio, are partners of Welcoming America, an organization that helps communities become more welcoming toward immigrants. These official acts might not have a big impact on the daily lives of immigrants, but they have symbolic power, sending a welcoming message to immigrants in a national context where xenophobic rhetoric remains strong.

Law enforcement policies: Some local governments in the rust belt have restricted their cooperation with the federal government in the enforcement of immigration law. Advocates of these policies claim they promote trust between immigrants and local police, contributing to enhance public safety and to foster a welcoming environment for newcomers. Dayton has limited the arrests of individuals who are stopped by the police and found with no driver’s license. The city has also funded legal services to individuals who may be eligible for a U-visa, a nonimmigrant visa available for certain victims of crimes. Philadelphia and Baltimore have instructed their city personnel not to inquire about a person’s immigration status and have restricted the use of city resources in immigration control.

Collaboration with the civil society: Most of the policies described above do not involve the direct provision of new services by local governments. In some cities, an office of immigrant affairs was created as a hub for local government agencies and civil society organizations that serve immigrants. Quite often, this collaboration precedes policy implementation and takes the form of task forces or advisory committees integrated by representatives of the government and the civil society. In Baltimore, the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant and Multicultural Affairs has worked with around 200 community leaders and representatives from city agencies, social service providers and philanthropic organizations. Welcome Dayton provides the public with an extensive list of immigrant advocacy and social service groups. Philadelphia has the Mayor’s Commission on African and Caribbean Immigrant Affairs and the Mayor’s Commission on Asian American Affairs. St. Louis has an Office of Diversity and Inclusion and the city administration works with the St. Louis Mosaic Project and other immigrant-supporting organizations.

Policy advocacy: Besides adopting local policies for immigrants, some local governments in the rust belt have also demanded immigrant-friendly policies from higher levels of government. In Baltimore and Pittsburgh, local legislators passed resolutions criticizing the Patriot Act for its potential violation of immigrants’ rights. They have also urged the Congress to enact a national immigration reform, including a reasonable pathway to citizenship and creating a fair immigration system. Several cities in the region also participate in national coalitions for an inclusionary approach to immigration, such as Cities for Action and the Welcoming Economies Global Network.

A development-oriented inclusionary approach for immigration governance is consolidating in the rust belt. The task now is to monitor the implementation of those policies. In Baltimore, the number of immigrants increased 50 percent between 2000 and 2013, contributing to the first population growth the city experienced in decades. If other cities in the region share similar experiences, the “rust belt model” might start to inspire higher levels of government and cities in other areas.

About the Authors: Felipe Filomeno, Ph.D., is Assistant Professor of Political Science the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. The post was co-authored with undergraduate students Arielle Erenrich, Edward Sauer, Emily Wigfield, Estelle Bol, Danielle McGrogan, Samuel Damesa, Charles Brother, Ghislain Tapsoba and Richard Coaxum.

Felipe Filomeno
Assistant Professor of Political Science the University of Maryland, Baltimore County