Immigration Op-Ed for Plain Dealer
Cleveland City Council 4th Quarter 2013
Cleveland City Council 4th Quarter 2013
Similar to many post-industrial cities in the United States, Cleveland continues to face the reality of a declining population. As a city, we need to collectively move in one direction to deal with this issue and find a long term solution to renew our city as a vibrant urban center.
Cleveland is missing an influx of new and fresh populations. Cleveland has the advantage of great resources that can potentially attract one of the largest untapped collection of people – immigrants. Globalizing Cleveland’s population brings fresh ideas along with an array of hardworking high-tech individuals, entrepreneurs, investors and consumers.
To develop this population, we must actively market the resources Cleveland has and make the city more globally friendly. Cleveland needs to address issues such as attracting immigrants and businesses, spotlighting assets and welcoming visitors to the area. A simple, yet effective solution would be to follow in the footsteps of the Cleveland Museum of Art whose doors read “welcome” in several global languages. Neighborhoods with already large concentrations of ethnic populations can do the same. Tremont, a largely Hispanic neighborhood, already has signs that say “Bienvenidos”, which means welcome in Spanish, throughout the neighborhood.
Another step in the right direction would be to engage the foreign consulate offices in Cleveland. It would be beneficial to designate foreign dignitaries or business leaders with ties to Cleveland, as honorary “ambassadors” and provide them with information to disburse about the area. Cleveland has many international organizations that can be utilized to reach out to their native countries. For example, Cleveland City Councilwoman Dona Brady has made ties for Cleveland with Albania. In the past few years, Cleveland has gained a “sister city” relationship with Fier, Albania serving as a relocation city for those fleeing the hardships of war. Councilwoman Dona Brady also spearheaded the creation of an Albanian Garden within the Cleveland Cultural Gardens in Rockefeller Park.
One of Cleveland’s biggest resources of immigrants is international students. Universities in the greater Cleveland area have streamlined the study abroad processes with assistance in immigration, academics, housing, finances and intercultural exchange to help make it easier for foreign students to study in Cleveland. Case Western Reserve University recently created an extensive support program for first-year international students to be paired with a student ambassador who will work with students and guide them through their transition. Many universities in the area, including Cleveland State University, have specialized centers for international services that organize cultural events, advise students academically and help students get involved on campus. The Cleveland Institute of Music has an extensive international student program that boasts students from more than 25 countries around the world, accounting for 25 percent of their enrollment.
In addition to universities, Cleveland competes on a global level in the business and medical fields. One of the largest supporters of ethnic diversity in our area is also one of the most successful non-profits in Cleveland - The Cleveland Clinic. The Clinic has a variety of programs to benefit international students and medical professionals, including the Cleveland Clinic Center for International Medical Education. The goal of this office is to generate opportunities for ongoing education and training throughout Cleveland Clinic’s global network for international practicing physicians.
While the Clinic is a huge supporter of diversity and the international business world, our region has many successful non-profit and for profit businesses owned by immigrants people. A short trip east of downtown to East 30th Street and St. Clair Avenue is the center of Cleveland’s growing AsiaTown, a neighborhood full of authentic Asian food, culture and shopping. Other areas of Cleveland have well established older immigrant communities with cultural events all year long including the Polish Constitution Day Parade in Slavic Village, the Feast of the Assumption in Little Italy and the Puerto Rican Day Parade and Latino Fest downtown. These events can help new immigrants retain ties with their native cultures. It is imperative that we as a city continue to support and grow these events, cultural groups and businesses.
We can attract groups to Cleveland, but few stay beyond a short visit. We have many resources to help immigrants, but we need to actively market Cleveland as a place where people can easily live and work, not just visit or receive an education. Groups such as Positively Cleveland, Greater Cleveland Partnership and local community development corporations need to be equipped with resources to help immigrants plant roots within our city. City Council has worked to rebuild neighborhoods to make them more attractive to different groups, but more needs to be done to make our city a destination.
While immigration has always been a hot topic in our country, it is especially significant due to the Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act (SB 1070) passed in Arizona a few years ago. This legislation has brought to light many discrepancies and issues with the immigration system. Shortly after this legislation was passed in Arizona, Cleveland City Council passed a resolution encouraging the United States Congress and President Obama to pass a Comprehensive Immigration Reform that includes helping undocumented immigrants that are currently in the United States to register with the government, learn the language, pay taxes and work their way through the path to citizenship. The enforcement-based immigration strategies that have been in place in our country for the past two decades have been largely unsuccessful and we need to solve the problem of undocumented immigration at its roots.
Cleveland City Council sees the potential that immigrant communities have to positively change the economic situation of cities like ours. Hundreds of millions of federal tax dollars are spent on unsuccessfully trying to deter unauthorized immigration, when it is entirely possible that a city like ours that is facing difficult budget cuts would benefit from the additional tax revenue generated by a program of comprehensive reform with an earned path to citizenship. Our country was built on values that encourage equal opportunity, safety and security for everyone and our city needs to blaze the path to bring new generations of immigrants and rebuild Cleveland into the global melting pot our foundation is built upon.