Thursday, February 6, 2014

Michigan Governor Snyder's Immigrant Economic Revitalization Proposal

In today's New York Times, the editorial board offers an informed assessment of a very interesting immigration initiative by Michigan Governor Rick Snyder who proposes 5o,ooo immigrant visas for people with exceptional abilities or advanced degrees in science, technology and applied arts. Snyder enjoys a great deal of enemity amongst the state's progressives for invoking the "emergency manager" provision for Detroit. Most stinging was the implicit accusation that not only were Detroit city council incompetent but the voters of Detroit, most of them urban blacks, were incompetent at the polls. With this initiative, it should be clear that Snyder does not come to bury Detroit but to build it back up, especially its tax base.

"Under Mr. Snyder’s proposal, 5,000 immigrants would be granted visas in the first year to live and work in Detroit, under a program known as EB-2, in which federal authorities are permitted to grant a maximum of 40,040 such visas nationwide each year. Over the following four years, the number of visas for Detroit-based immigrants with advanced degrees or exceptional ability would go up, ending with 15,000 in the fifth year."

This proposal raises a number of concerns, however. When more educated people with more money arrive, developers and rapacious landlords start licking their chops. One need only look to San Francisco to see what smart geeks have wrought in a city once celebrated for free living on the cheap. We know what happens to the urban poor when gentrification shifts into overdrive but what about the earlier waves of urban pioneers, the tattooed hipsters who planted their flags a decade ago in areas like Corktown and Woodbridge and opened small restaurants, cafes, galleries and craft shops? The editorial board muses even further:

    "Such a limited visa program might also reinforce the misguided belief that highly skilled     immigrants are the only ones worth the trouble. This is putting a velvet rope beside the Golden         Door and saying: We’ll take you, you and you — not you. World-class entrepreneurs and scholars     come from poor and blue-collar families, too. Some of our most important, economy-sustaining     labor is done by the workers who expertly pick our crops, and by the nannies and housekeepers     without whose labors many white-collar households would cease to function."

Another element to take into consideration is Windsor, Ontario, just across the river from Detroit. Should holders of an EB-2 under this initiative be allowed to live within the city limits of Windsor if they either work for a company they own in Detroit or are employed by one that has been identified as a suitable employer under the program? Detroit and Windsor are old friends who have shared many of the same economic triumphs and failures. Billionaire Dan Gilbert, owner of Quicken Loans and Mayor Eddie Francis of Windsor have already started such a program under the TN visa scheme. Check out Alas, a standard issue EB-2 is an immigrant visa, requiring a Canadian or Canadian landed immigrant to move to Detroit if they want to enjoy its potential promise of US permanent residency and citizenship. In addition, an EB-2 visa is tied to a specific employer. Only with a National Waiver would a bearer be able to freely range from employer to employer, taking their skills and education to the highest bidder. Would Snyder's program relax the National Waiver requirement if the visa holder stayed in Detroit?

Finally, there are the immigration enforcement agencies and Congress to consider. Since Reagan's "amnesty," Congress has found more and more ways to impose nativist constraints on alien labour aided and abetted by questionable enhanced enforcement by the CBP and ICE. I use the word "alien" with the same dismay that the Sixth Circuit expressed in Flores v. USCIS (2013). Snyder's initiative is a welcome recognition that there are places in America that need help to thrive. When America opens its borders to the best and brightest of the world and invites them to enrich American life, all of America will benefit. A better Detroit is a better America.

-- Timothy Dugdale, Ph.D. Founder Atomic Quill Media, Windsor, Ontario

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