Thursday, February 17, 2005

Immigration Office Referendum

More good news broke on Thursday, as the Inquirer reported that City Council voted to have the creation of a director of immigration affairs go up for referendum. While it would be nice to see the legislative body take a stand and make this happen, since they were more than willing to spend hundreds of millions on the Neighborhood Transformation Iniative and Safe Streets without our direct consent. But hey, in this city, this cowardly step still provides a huge opportunity for us.

Jim Kenney introduced a bill four years ago, but in the aftermath of September 11th, it was reported that there was little interest among Mayor Street and Council to get this done. Sadly, no one has followed up on the implicit racism/xenophobia that lay behind this inaction, so sad and typical of Street and his cronies. I will save this for a future post on Mayor Street.

This bill is a necessary and simple one, and the fact that we still don't have any head or department for immigration reflects how backwards and out-of-touch our city government is. Put simply, the referendum seeks to establish a city office to deal with all issues related to immigration and immigrants living in the city. As the article reads, "The bill calls for a citywide referendum in November on creating the position of director of immigrant affairs, whose job it would be to promote the interests of the city's immigrant community, provide services to new immigrants, educate the public on immigration policies, and develop a marketing plan to promote Philadelphia as a destination for immigrants."

It would help make the city more friendly and understandable to newcomers. This would help these fledgling communities take advantage of the government, and use it to improve and strengthen their neighborhoods. For me, one of the central aspects of cities is their openness, their role as a home for those who have lost their homes or are unwelcome elsewhere. It is this role that defines the world cities, of which we should be one.

Beyond the altruistic/intellectual reasons, it is a simple decision to help the city grow and stem the loss of population. As Kenney remarks in the article: The advantage of creating a new office for immigrant affairs in Philadelphia, Kenney said, "is that we would be working to attract people who are hungry to succeed and who are willing to work hard to do it. They would be coming in and working hard at the jobs they get, creating jobs by opening businesses, and buying houses and improving neighborhoods. We should be tapping into that." Kenney is exactly right, and he has come up with a simple and effective answer to this problem.

Immigrants have served as a source of growth in American cities for 2 centuries now, and they are eseential now in the face of suburban flight. All of the major cities in the United States that experienced population growth did so through immigration, as these newcomers offset those moving to the suburbs. Those greater numbers add to the tax base, boost a city's representative power at the state and federal level, and keep a city vital and dense. One need only look to our neighbors to the north for proof, as New York City and Boston enjoyed growth over the last decade solely through immigration.

Okay, there is so much more to say on this issue, as it is something that is close to my heart. This post and the referendum are a good start, but only that.

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