Rebuilding America’s Cities Through Immigration

Want to rebuild America’s cities? Immigration just might be the answer, argues Michael Bloomberg, the self-made billionaire philanthropist and former New York City mayor. In a recent speech to a group that promotes entrepreneurship, Mr. Bloomberg, “said that offering citizenship to entrepreneurial immigrants is the best way to revitalize the nation’s struggling cities,” according to an article in Inc. magazine. [See Michael Bloomberg Lays Out His Plan for Immigration Reform, by Will Yakowicz, Inc. Magazine, 06.Jun.2014.]

What he suggests is something akin to urban homesteading for foreign-born entrepreneurs, albeit without the promise of free land. As quoted in Inc. Magazine, Mr. Bloomberg said, “What I would do for cities like Baltimore and Detroit is to say to the world: if you want to come, we’ll assign you to a city and the deal is you take no state, federal, or local aid, you stay out of trouble, and you and your family have to live in that city for seven years.” According to Inc., Mr. Bloomberg reiterated his previous assertion that America “is committing suicide with the current immigration laws.”

Mr. Bloomberg’s comments echo those of Dr. Carl Schramm, former head of the pro-entrepreneurship Kauffman Foundation. In a commentary on, Dr. Schramm proposes that, “Perhaps, as in the past, immigrants have a special role to play in the rebirth of many cities.” Cities should consider recruiting immigrants, he says, especially those with science and engineering backgrounds, because, “highly skilled and entrepreneurial immigrants have been critical to the life of cities in every stage of their economic evolution.” [See Why Immigration is Crucial to the Revival of America’s Cities, by Carl Schramm,, 01.Jun.2014.]

The problem, according to Dr. Schramm, is that it’s extremely difficult for these entrepreneurial-minded immigrants to gain a foothold in the United States, due to shortsighted restrictions on immigration. In other words, our immigration policy is driven by fear, not economic rationality – policymakers see threats where they should see opportunities. What official Washington fails to understand, Dr. Schramm argues, is that the immigrants “are not coming to take something that America will give – they are coming to give something to America.”

Though high-tech immigrant entrepreneurship will continue to play an important role in our economic development, Dr. Schramm says we should be careful not to miss out on promising new opportunities in less glamorous fields. For example, he notes, the Turkish immigrant who founded Chobani didn’t just discover a new market opportunity, he essentially created an entirely new industry: Greek-style yoghurt.

Some city governments clearly are already working at the local level to welcome more energetic and ambitious immigrants, and to support their entrepreneurial aspirations. For this to work, though, we need a larger supply of immigrant entrepreneurs, and that’s a problem that can only be sorted out in Washington. Meanwhile, America’s cities are waiting … still.

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