Friday, October 10, 2003

Welcome mat for foreign-born

By Tony Lang
The Cincinnati Enquirer

'Weekend memos' give our editorial writers a chance to express their own opinions, comment on topics they have been writing about, or take a lighter approach. The opinions in 'Memos' do not always follow the Enquirer's editorial positions.
Most Cincinnati City Council candidates sound optimistic about the city's prospects, or why would they be chasing that line of work? But more than a few admit to some apprehension that the city's shrinking population could slip below the number needed to bring Cincinnati back to its former glory.

In other cities, immigrants came to the rescue, but not here. Among the 50 largest metro regions, Cincinnati's 13-county metro of 2 million people has the smallest percentage of foreign-born residents - just 2.6 percent. Foreign-born in both Columbus and Cleveland account for 4.6 percent. Nearly half of metro Cincinnati's 51,236 foreign-born arrived here in the 1990s, but immigrants moving directly here totaled only 7,500.

Pittsburgh and other cities are trying to boost population with campaigns to recruit the foreign-born. It's not clear if such recruiting works, since good-paying jobs are mainly what draw newcomers, native or foreign-born.

The Oct. 8 Christian Science Monitor featured what groups such as Cincinnati Tomorrow and Young Professionals of Cincinnati, with help from the Chamber of Commerce, are doing to change the city's "unhip" image and attract a younger population here. That includes young foreign-born professionals. Cities need to do more than just put out a welcome mat, if they are to reverse population loss and brain drain and start growing again.

Usually such projects are dressed up in the cheerleader costume of diversity, and some progress has been made in defining that overused word in more than just black and white terms. But one irony in the case of U.S. immigration is that it's becoming less diverse.

New census data released in June showed that one country - Mexico - dominated U.S. immigration in the 1990s. Washington-based Center for Immigration Studies reports that Mexico in 1990 accounted for 22 percent of America's foreign-born. By 2000, the number had jumped to 30 percent. Mexico alone accounted for 43 percent of the 1990s growth in U.S. foreign-born.

Sept. 11 and its aftermath briefly slowed the immigration rate of growth, but foreign-born now total 32.5 million. That includes illegal aliens. The illegal population in the 1990s grew by 2.8 million. It's estimated Mexico accounted for about 80 percent of it. One of many reasons California voters dumped Gov. Gray Davis Tuesday for an Austrian immigrant was that Davis signed a bill to issue driver's licenses to illegal aliens. California's foreign-born in the 1990s grew by 2.4 million to 8.8 million total. Mexico contributed 1.45 million. Kentucky's entire foreign-born population totals under 80,000. Of Ohio's 339,000 foreign-born, more came from India than Mexico. Indiana is one of 39 states that show the decline in diversity, with Mexican foreign-born now accounting for 31 percent of the state's total.

In one sense, most regions want even less foreign-born diversity: they want educated, skilled foreign-born. That's not what many are getting. As the CIS study says: "For at least the last 120 years, no country has accounted for such a large share of the foreign-born as Mexico does today."

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