The City of Dayton, Ohio made headlines last year when the City Commission voted unanimously to make the city “immigrant-friendly.” This includes supporting immigrant communities both in business and community involvement. The policy has now met with some success in boosting the city’s economy. Of particular note is how the city has called on its immigrant community to draw in more immigrants. The policy has drawn both positive and negative reactions, both from within Dayton and from around the country.
The city’s “Welcome Dayton” plan began with a review by Dayton’s Human Relations Council of alleged housing discrimination affecting Latino residents. This occurred amid the national debate over immigration sparked by tough new state-level immigration laws passed in Arizona, Alabama, and elsewhere. Certain city officials recognized the benefits that immigrants can bring to a new community. With a dwindling population and a local economy that has been stagnant at best, supporting immigrant-friendly policies made political sense. The City Commission unanimously approved the Welcome Dayton plan on October 5, 2011. It features support for immigrant-owned business start-ups, encouragement of immigrant involvement in city government, language services, and immigrant access to public health and other services.
Dayton was once a thriving center of manufacturing, on par with cities like Detroit, Michigan. Its population reportedly rose by 15.7 percent between 1940 and 1950, as post-World War II industrialization brought factories and manufacturing jobs to the city. That all changed beginning in the 1970’s, when businesses began leaving to open plants in non-union areas and overseas. General Motors, for example, closed its plant in Dayton in 2008, costing the city 2,400 jobs. Between 1970 and 2010, the city’s population dropped by 41.6 percent. Dayton’s unemployment rate sits at 10.3 percent.
Mayor Gary Leitzell, in a recent State of the City speech, addressed the city’s creativity in responding to the city’s needs with a substantially reduced budget. He also spoke about the benefits the city has already realized from the Welcome Dayton plan. New residential development has begun in the downtown area, for example, with plans to build more. Other cities in Ohio point to Dayton as an example of how a city can support its immigrant population.
Local immigrant communities have benefitted from the plan by starting new businesses and participating in community life. Almost 30,000 immigrants reportedly lived in Dayton in 2010, out of a population of more than 800,000 people. Many of the immigrants in Dayton are Latinos from Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America. Many Ahiska Turks, a population that originally lived in Georgia in the former Soviet Union, have settled in Dayton. Refugee communities have also formed from Iraq, Burundi, and other countries.
Some critics, both locally and around the country, have criticized the plan as creating a so-called “sanctuary city,” meaning a city where undocumented immigrants can settle without fear of questioning by local law enforcement. Undocumented immigrants have reportedly contacted Welcome Dayton officials to ask if Dayton is “safe.” City officials say that they are not skirting or violating federal immigration laws. Rather, they say they take the approach that, as long as an immigrant is contributing to the good of the community, city authorities will not ask about their immigration status.
The United States immigration system is often complicated and confusing. For a confidential consultation with a skilled and experienced Ohio immigration visa lawyer, contact Gus Shihab online or at (800) 625-3404 today.More Blog Posts
Ohio’s Immigrants Have a Higher Rate of Education Than in the Rest of the Country, Immigration Visa Lawyer Blog, February 29, 2012
US Proposes Changes in F-1 & H-1B Visas to Attract More Foreign Skilled Workers, Immigration Visa Lawyer Blog, February 3, 2012
Ohio Business Investors Offer Help to Immigrants who Create Jobs, Immigration Visa Lawyer Blog, October 27, 2011
Photo credit: ‘Dayton-ohio-skyline’ by Tysto [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.