By Ann-Marie Adams
Connecticut has a significant number of foreign-born residents. So perhaps it’s time to create a Commission on Immigrant Affairs — not a “clearing house” as a former politician has been advocating around town. That new organization got off to a bad start when he and his colleagues forgot to invite certain immigrants to a conversation they “kick-started” in October.
Immigrants don’t need more encumbrances or gatekeepers like those to navigate. They need a clear path to innovate and build. This new commission would be crucial to improve and promote economic development, education, health and the political well being of the new Americans with entrepreneurial spirit. The commission, like the Mayors’s Commission on African and Caribbean Immigrant Affairs in Philadelphia, would help clear their path.
Consider this: Of the state’s 3.6 million residents, an estimated 478, 323 are foreign-born. The Nutmeg State has a slightly higher percentage of immigrants, 13.4 percent versus 13 percent, than nation as a whole. In the Greater Hartford area, 78.5 percent of immigrants are skilled, and 30 percent have college or graduate degrees, according to state data.
Moreover, the Migration Policy Institute data show that Connecticut has the highest proportion, 49.4 percent, of foreign-born residents who are citizens. Immigrants from Latin America and the Caribbean comprise the largest share of the state’s foreign-born population. The country of origin with the largest percentage of the immigrant population in Connecticut is Jamaica. Of the state’s total immigrant population in 2011, more than 7 percent were born in Jamaica, 6.6 percent in India and 5.9 percent in Poland.
However, there has been a shift in the immigration trend from Latin America and the Caribbean origins to Europe and Asia in the last decade, notably from Italy, Canada, Poland, India and China. The diversity of immigrants in the state can be a boon for Connecticut, still recovering from the Great Recession, which was preceded by two decades of no job growth.
President Barack Obama’s recent call to rebuild America’s ports along the Mississippi River and at New Orleans is, no doubt, a strategy to expand trade with other countries and create jobs. Immigrants provide a wealth of knowledge for anyone looking to enter markets in other parts of the world. And that’s why some states in the US are already welcoming immigrants as a stratagem for revitalizing de-industrialized cities, neglected since the late 1950s.
After all, migration has been used since the dawn of time to develop nations and build economies. Economist John Kenneth Galbraith aptly surmised that migration is an economic engine and the oldest action against poverty. The US bears witness to that. Immigrants and their children, from Andrew Carnegie to Steve Jobs, founded 40 percent of the Fortune 500 companies. Immigrants and their children’s companies employ 550,600 people and generate about $2 billion in revenue. Moreover, immigrants have generated more than a quarter of all jobs in high-growth sectors, according to the Immigrant Learning Center.
Connecticut has its own success stories. Here, immigrants founded General Electric, Pitney Bowes, United Technology Corporation and Edible Arrangements. In Hartford, Albany Avenue and Main Street are lined with small businesses founded by Jamaicans and other immigrants – providing valuable tax revenue for a city in which 52 percent of its businesses are nonprofits. Imagine the possibilities if cities and states knew how to create an effective synergy.
The story about immigrants as builders and job creators is remarkable. And despite the facts present, the false narrative about immigrants as a drag on the economy is pervasive and to the contrary. Most immigrants create jobs and provide labor on farms, factories, hospitals, hotels and schools, bringing revenue to financially strapped colleges and depressed cities across America. Perhaps it’s time we start having informed discussions that stick to the facts about immigrants, the new builders of America.
In the meanwhile, Connecticut and the rest of the country must foster an environment that champions difference and innovation. After all, more than half the country supports this common-sense approach to job creation. And this can only continue with immigration reform. According to a Quinnipiac University Poll, 57 percent of voters favor illegal immigrants staying in the U.S. and following a path to citizenship. Another 12 percent say illegal immigrants should be allowed to stay but with no path to citizenship, while 26 percent say illegal immigrants should be forced to leave.
While thinking about what to do with illegal immigrants, let’s not lose sight of what can be done to encourage our legal immigrants, who for centuries have been boosting the American economy.
All you have to do is create a commission to help foster their growth and get out of their way.
Ann-Marie Adams, Ph.D. is the founder of The Hartford Guardian. Follow her on twitter @annmarieadams.
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