Do Failing Cities Need an Immigrant Infusion?

Can poor foreigners save Detroit? It’s a provocative question that Matt Yglesias poses, and there’s a certain bent appeal to his logic:

There are clearly insurmountable logistical, legal, practical, constitutional, and political obstacles to doing this but I can’t help but think that with 165 million people around the world telling Gallup they’d like to permanently relocate to the United States that it would be possible to find 1.3 million people who’d be interested in permanently relocating to Detroit and bringing the city back up to its peak population level. Economic and governance opportunities in Detroit are poor by American standards (or even by Italian standards) but they’re great compared to what you’ll find in Haiti, Gaza, Myanmar, Chad, or Nicaragua.

Or Mexico! Of course, millions want to live in America forever but nobody wants to permanently relocate to Detroit. A more serious problem is that dreaming of the restoration of ‘peak Detroit’ is sort of like dreaming for the restoration of Greater Bulgaria — perhaps even stranger, because there’s no ethnonationalist rise to get out of a bigger Detroit. There’s just a bigger Detroit. Presumably in Matt’s mind the numbers would connect up with a restoration of Detroit’s economic productivity and quality of life. But why? Maybe they’d head toward the level of Haiti’s or Gaza’s instead.

On the other hand, maybe America still offers the kind of opportunity that turns former residents of doomed regions into hardworking winners. The sad spectacle of Detroit suggests that’s not the case. But Detroit is badly misleading, because Detroit has been captive to a crushing (liberal-approved) agenda of unearned government dollars and public-sector corruption for decades. That’s not the only reason Detroit is on the skids. But it’s a powerful, perhaps dominant, contributing factor. All the luck and pluck in the world won’t make winners out of immigrants condemned to eke out an existence under that kind of yoke. Before we think about sending the foreigners in, it’s time to think about rooting the government rot out.

  1. Conor Friedersdorf
    C

    I’m with you, Mark.

    All my least favorite immigration proposals, from the actual guest worker programs of France and Germany to the proposed guest worker program of Bush and McCain, treat immigrants as though they’re merely highly motivated workers, when in fact they are human beings.

    Since jobs are so sparse in Detroit you’d need a law to keep the immigrants living there — who wouldn’t move to a city with a better job market — and after that what if the local economy doesn’t improve? You just have a hyper-concentrated group of new immigrants without jobs lawfully forbidden to leave? Yeah, that won’t lead to disaffection.

  2. Mark Wilson

    Europe has had mixed results with its immigrants when they are not put in a situation to assimilate. See what the “youths” of “immigrant origin” are up to these days in the Netherlands. This is one of Mark Steyn’s favorite observations: The media’s refusal to identify a connection between the violent “youths” and any particular religion is a dead giveaway of their connection with the Religion of Peace.

  3. James Poulos
    C
    Steven Riznyk: …we have severe backlogs in many areas. If we were to offer certain immigrants faster processing if they lived in certain areas that require help…that would be an incentive. Now I am not speaking of people doing just labor but people who, by virtue of being in another country see solutions where we see problems and can invest in resources or money to build up some depressed areas…there are always solutions and it may be easier if you are on the outside looking in. This may not save Detroit but it can help many other cities in these hard times. I know a lot of my clients are entrepreneurial and someone is sure to take us up on the offer…just a thought……

    Steven, thanks very much for this. I want to know more about the backlog — one of the notes illegal immigration apologists strike time and time again is that people have to wait in line for so long to legally immigrate that they are driven to take their chances and break the law. What’s the source of this backlog? Why does it take so long? What can be done about it? Burning questions.

  4. Steven Riznyk

    James…you are onto something bigger than I think you may have realized. Your articles inspired me. I have been an international lawyer involved in immigration for the last 22 years. I see myself as a businessman before being a lawyer and I have been trying to wrap myself around a solution to our problem for the past year.

    As a different twist…we have severe backlogs in many areas. If we were to offer certain immigrants faster processing if they lived in certain areas that require help…that would be an incentive. Now I am not speaking of people doing just labor but people who, by virtue of being in another country see solutions where we see problems and can invest in resources or money to build up some depressed areas…there are always solutions and it may be easier if you are on the outside looking in. This may not save Detroit but it can help many other cities in these hard times. I know a lot of my clients are entrepreneurial and someone is sure to take us up on the offer…just a thought……

  5. Scott R

    Just heard on the local news that right here in Greater Cleveland we lost 26,000 people last year, more than any other city in the US. Those that left did it for a sound reason: they came to their senses. Cleveland was (is) an immigrant city. But eventually they wise up. Ship in thousands more, and soon enough, they’ll ship out too. Call it the interplay of lake-effect snow, human freedom, and Dennis Kucinich.

  6. James Poulos
    C

    Matt responds:

    This seems to me like a textbook case of subordinating actual analysis of the issue to a political agenda. It’s quite true that Detroit suffers from corrupt, inept governance. But [...] though the situation in Detroit is bad enough by American standards that people have been leaving in droves, it’s good enough by global standards that people might want to come in droves if given the opportunity. [...] for all Detroit’s problems [...] new migrants would inhabit Detroit’s large quantity of existing vacant structures, investing “sweat equity” in refurbishing them, and providing new customers for existing Detroit retailers, new tax revenue to fund social services, and a source of stabilization to the local property market. The city would be better off and so would the migrants.

    I’m inspired to take my claims seriously enough to formulate a serious auto-critique. Matt should argue that immigrants will replace failed government largesse. A vibrant class of hardworking, law-abiding citizens will zonk out the argument for the same old public dollar dumps. Adios waste, corruption, and perverse incentives! These immigrants might even take over the local government. Maybe a flood of immigrants can save Detroit from bad liberal policies. Stance changed.

  7. Mark Wilson

    I’m not sure if creating foreign enclave in the middle of the country is a good idea. I welcome immigrants, but I think inviting hundreds of thousands of immigrants to populate a city would be a big impediment to their assimilation into our culture. Would there be a risk of creating an American Quebec?

  8. Mark Ferrigno

    Detroit already has a huge immigrant population, the largest concentration of Muslim/Arab immigrants in the United States. Detroit needs new government, not new people.

    All the failing cities have the same common denominator,lLiberals at the helm.

  9. Steven Riznyk

    James:

    The backlog is quite severe in some instances and you are right, many potential clients (whose cases I declined) chose to take a quicker route. The biggest casualties are innocent Americans who end up getting married to foreigners whom they don’t know are marrying for a Green Card (I can tell you interesting stories about that) because it is a short wait.

    Right now, if you are a worker with a degree or without, you are looking at about 7 years before you obtain a Green Card. Some are lucky and work here on an H1b visa while they wait it out. However, many don’t and cannot even visit the US while they are waiting (and we lose tourism and other dollars). The wait is simply a function of the quotas as well as the fact that the system does not have enough employees for all the work they are burdened with, despite the fact they keep increasing filing fees. A brother or sister, for example, has to wait 9 years according to the (google search; State Dept visa bulletin) …yet they have the contacts to be productive and often are…200 wds r up