At the turn of the century, Bangladeshi immigrant Shaker Sadeak packed his bags in New York City and headed to Michigan — a state that he says afforded him the opportunity to make a living and go to school at the same time.
Seven years later, he took another step, opening his own wholesale and retail fabric shop, India Fashion, in Hamtramck, Michigan’s Banglatown. Surrounded by Bengali restaurants, spice shops and groceries, his business, like the street upon which it lives, has flourished over time.
When VOA visited this summer, new and established businesses were steadily replacing abandoned lots along Conant Street, Banglatown’s commercial main street.
“Back in 2000, you used to see one car in two minutes. Now we have thousands of cars driving on the streets,” Sadeak said. “All the immigrants came into this town and rebuilt the whole thing.”
‘Bread and butter’ issue
In Rust Belt communities, immigration is a “bread and butter economic issue,” said Steve Tobocman, executive director of Global Detroit, a nonprofit corporation that pursues strategies to attract international investment and business in southeast Michigan.
The state government under a Republican governor has concluded the same, issuing a report last year that said that the more than 640,000 foreign-born individuals in Michigan are “critical contributors to Michigan’s economic success.”
But the Trump administration argues that low-skilled or illegal immigrants are hurting American workers.
President Donald Trump’s senior adviser for policy, Stephen Miller, told reporters last month that the president’s immigration policies will prevent an influx of such workers into the country.
“In an environment in which you have this huge pool of unemployed labor in the United States, and you’re spending massive amounts of money putting our own workers on welfare?” Miller asked. “We are constantly told that unskilled immigration boosts the economy but again, if you look at the last 17 years, we just know from reality that is not true.”
However, the Michigan state government’s economic report suggested that the estimated 126,000 undocumented immigrants in the state generally fill jobs different from native-born workers, “playing a small but critical role in the workforce.”
The report concluded that the group has played a positive role in Michigan’s economy, paying much more in taxes than the cost of the services such as education and law enforcement that they receive. The report suggested that giving legal status to these workers, and perhaps requiring them to pay back taxes, would be a net benefit for the state and its citizens.
Eight months into Donald Trump’s presidency, Global Detroit’s Tobocman says the administration’s immigration policies and rhetoric have come with a hefty price tag: more than $1 billion in lost annual economic activity in Michigan.
“We have done some damage to America’s brand as the world’s most welcoming economy, most innovative economy, and a place where anybody can come and contribute to our growth and prosperity and live the American Dream,” Tobocman said.
Policies and rhetoric, quantified
In collaboration with nine other Rust Belt states that make up the Welcoming Economies Global Network, Global Detroit calculated the combined projected economic loss in Michigan resulting from decreases in international tourism and international student applications, repercussions from the repeal of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), and losses in agricultural production.
Of a combined projected $1.157 billion annual loss in statewide economic activity, $418.63 million comes at the hands of Trump’s announced termination of DACA.
WATCH: A Look at Hamtramck
An additional $241 million was attributed to an assumed 16 percent decline in international tourism. The now-extended travel ban, Tobocman argues, is a primary source of a downturn in tourism among both Muslim tourists and others who are sympathetic, “who would like to see a more welcoming culture.”
But even where hard numbers are more difficult to quantify, including losses in agricultural production and new refugee arrivals, Tobocman says the repercussions from Trump’s policies and rhetoric are becoming clear.
“It’s really enhanced enforcement … the deportation numbers are not significantly higher, but the kinds of raids that we have seen, and the kinds of treatment policies,” he continued, “that sends a signal: that your labor is not really welcome here.”
Weighing costs and benefits
In regions that have seen population decline, such as the Midwest, immigrants are “part of what’s keeping those communities vibrant or growing at all,” said Kim Rueben, senior fellow at the Urban Institute.
Rueben, a member of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) panel that produced a comprehensive 2016 report on the long-term impacts of immigration on native-born workers and overall wages, noted that over a period of 10 years or more, the impact of immigration on the wages of native-born workers is very small and there’s little evidence it affects the overall employment levels of U.S.-born workers.
Any decision to cut immigration numbers, Rueben told VOA, is both economically and fiscally costly.
She said eliminating DACA is particularly costly because DACA recipients tend to be well-educated and skilled workers.
“[DACA recipients] are contributing more to society because they are able to do those jobs that are in keeping with their education and the investments they have,” Rueben said.
Rueben added that the children of lower-wage first-generation immigrants, such as farm workers, have shown a tendency to exceed education-level expectations.
Nationwide, according to a late-September poll released by Quinnipiac, 38 percent of voting Americans approve of the way Trump is handling immigration issues, compared to 59 percent who disapprove. The numbers reflect a five-point drop in approval since mid-August.
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