More Immigrants Won’t Solve Cities’ Budget Blues

Published on August 14th, 2012

By Joe Guzzardi
August 3, 2012

Financial analysts worry that California’s spate of municipal bankruptcies—Vallejo, Mammoth Lakes, Stockton and San Bernardino—might signal the beginning of a troubling trend. Bankruptcy could lose its stigma and may become the new norm.

Nearly half a million California residents live in bankrupt cities, the most devastated of which is San Bernardino. According to the Los Angeles Times, San Bernardino has less than $150,000 in its bank which in turn means that the city has less than $1 per its 209,000 residents to provide services to each of them. If more nationwide collapses play out, and many urban areas in New York, Michigan and other heavily populated states are on the brink, then states might be forced to appoint emergency city managers who have far reaching powers that could effectively shut down cities.

Teetering cities are investigating all options. One of them is to make their towns more welcoming to immigrants. From time to time during the last few years, the strategy of immigrant outreach has been talked up as a possible solution to shrinking revenue and waning population. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel recently announced an open door policy toward illegal immigrants. And in October, Dayton plans to revitalize by encouraging more small immigrant-owned businesses to open. An event called “Welcome Dayton” will kick off the effort. Baltimore is also on track to initiate an immigrant friendly environment.

Since most of the outreach beneficiaries are illegal immigrants, the process violates federal immigration law. Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake announced to a Hispanic audience that she’s counting on them to help the city gain 10,000 families by 2022. To facilitate this, Rawlings-Blake signed an order in March prohibiting Baltimore police from questioning about immigration status. The mayor also asked federal immigration authorities to tell any person they may detain in Baltimore that they are not city employees.

Ten thousand immigrant families could mean 50,000 more Baltimore residents, mostly dependent. Those additional people put more pressure on Baltimore’s already overburdened social agencies, schools and hospitals. Baltimore has an $80 million budget deficit and a 10.1 percent unemployment rate. In no way will the arrival of hundreds of thousands of unskilled, unassimilated immigrants help Baltimore. Immigration advocates make the same flawed but unchallenged arguments. The immigrants will open businesses, hire unemployed locals, pay taxes, learn English, eventually pass the G.E.D. exam and then go on to higher paying jobs where their revenue contributions will be greater.

The most motivated immigrants may open businesses. But they wouldn’t be capital intensive and they won’t hire large block of Baltimoreans. The hires will be immediate family members. Typically, immigrants, especially from Mexico and Central America, don’t master English. Their lack of English skills makes passing the G.E.D. nearly impossible. Even native-born Americans with some high school education struggle with the G.E.D. As for the future jobs the new immigrants promise to fill, good luck to them at finding anything other than low paying employment in the hospitality sector. The few better jobs that might be available should, at any rate, go to American citizens.

When it comes to immigration and population policy, less is always better than more. In cities that aren’t sure if they can meet the next payroll, much less immigration and lower population should be the immediate goal.


Joe Guzzardi is a Californians for Population Stabilization Senior Writing Fellow. His columns have been syndicated since 2008. Contact him at [email protected]

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