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Immigration Goes National: Can We Deal with It?
by Gary Endelman

Gary Endelman practices immigration law at BP Amoco Corporation. The opinions expressed in this column are purely personal and do not represent the views or beliefs of BP Amoco Corporation in any way.

Biography What's going on here? Four local groups in Pittsburgh are awarded $800,000 in foundation grants this past month to entice new immigrants to come, persuade international students to stay after graduation and educate the community on the virtues of diversity. Philadelphia is planning to create an "Office of New Philadelphians" patterned after similar experiments in Boston and the Big Apple. Philly Councilman James Kenney hunts for foundation dollars to promote the City of Brotherly Love in US consulates abroad and open up more gates at the airport for flights to and from Asia and Latin America. In Louisville, Kentucky, a freshly minted "Office of International and Cultural Affairs" will post a roster of interpreters on its web site by the end of next month. Last December, the Albuquerque City Council declared their home town to be "immigrant friendly" and set aside $50,000 to fund a resource service for immigrants. The State of Iowa is actively looking for folks from far away to become part of the Hawkeye family.

Only a few years ago, if my aging memory serves, these same city officials were loudly calling for the gates to be shut against further migration that could only compete for jobs, go on welfare, and cause the cost of social services to skyrocket. What happened? The 90s did. As the middle class hightailed it to the suburbs in their SUVs, and the labor shortage was aggravated by an unprecedented national economic boom, young immigrants with large families repopulated urban America and provided the workers to do the jobs that suddenly could not be filled. Far from fighting to keep immigrants out, America's cities now fall all over themselves to bring them in. This is especially true in those urban areas that were losing population, often leaving behind those who could not relocate, the elderly and the poor. Pittsburgh said good bye to 9.5% of its population in the 1990s; 4% of Philadelphia left; 5% of Louisville went somewhere else. By contrast, during this same decade, Miami and New York welcomed 337,174 and 974,599 immigrants respectively according to the 2000 Census. By the end of the century, the foreign-born made up 15.5 % of Miami and 11.2% of New York City.

What does all of this mean? It means that, for the first time in American history, immigration is a national not a regional or local phenomenon. Places that never knew or cared about immigration now realize that it can reverse population decline, replenish fading neighborhoods, restore ethnic balance, and promote new business creation. No longer is immigration limited to traditional enclaves such as Texas, New York, Florida and California. Immigration has visited the US, and the country as a whole will never be the same. The consequences of immigration going national cannot be overlooked. The paradigm of employment-based immigration must begin to shift away from one based on responding to the specific needs of individual employers towards the larger requirements of local, state and regional economies. The only reason employment-based immigration exists at all is to benefit the United States. It is more important to help Iowa or Pittsburgh or the depressed mill towns of New England than to assist any one company. This does not mean that the current model of employer sponsorship must be torn up root and branch to be cast aside onto the dustbin of history. It does mean that an alternative, though still experimental model, should be given a trial run. Abolish the Diversity Lottery for which there is no sustaining rationale. Give out these same 55,000 numbers as credits to the states much as is now done with carbon credits for emmissions control. Allow the states to trade or exchange these credits between themselves since no one knows what the different economies of America need more than the people who live and work there.

Immigration can and should be used as a practical incentive to revive those parts of the nation that have been left behind. The means is there to do it if we have but the will to employ the magic bullet that demography has given us.

About The Author

Gary Endelman practices immigration law at BP Amoco Corporation. The opinions expressed in this column are purely personal and do not represent the views or beliefs of BP Amoco Corporation in any way.

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