A Tale of Two Cities (and a Town): Immigrants in the Rust Belt

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In the midst of the debate over the largest potential immigration reform legislation in 50 years, some American communities struggling with decades of population loss and economic decline are being revitalized by newcomers. The role of immigrants in high-skilled fields is relatively well-known, but less acknowledged are the contributions that “blue collar” immigrants make to revitalizing depressed communities and economies, both as manual laborers and small business entrepreneurs. In Rust Belt communities such as Baltimore, Detroit, and southeastern Iowa, immigration has slowed — and in some cases reversed — decades of population loss. It is revitalizing neighborhoods and commercial corridors.

Immigrants — including lower-skilled immigrants — help generate jobs and economic growth for U.S.-born workers. Immigrants are a disproportionate number of our country’s entrepreneurs. This is particularly true in Rust Belt cities, where immigrants are more likely to be entrepreneurs than they are in more traditional immigrant gateways. But to make their full potential economic impact in the Rust Belt, unauthorized immigrants need a path to citizenship.

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