Trump’s Immigration Policies Threaten to Thwart Economic Growth


For the entire staff at Global Detroit, the Executive Orders from President Trump on immigration, refugees, the so-called Muslim ban, and the wall have been devastating and deeply distressing. They challenge our sense of American values and history.

Beyond our personal and moral reactions, however, the Executive Orders also may have some impact on the work of Global Detroit to spark regional economic growth, job creation, and prosperity. They certainly send a signal to the global community that America may be wavering from its historic role as the world’s most open economy, an unparalleled place of refuge, and a welcoming culture open to people of every religion, color, and creed. Retreating from these positions will hurt our economy.

The Executive Orders barring refugees and immigrants from seven select countries (Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen) seem to have been hastily drawn to satisfy political promises, rather than to achieve important outcomes. In the last two decades (even prior to 9/11), no fatal terrorist attack on U.S. soil has been carried out by refugees. Nor have any fatal terrorist attacks on U.S. soil been carried out over the last 20 years by immigrants from the countries targeted by the Executive Order.

It’s not that the U.S. shouldn’t carefully consider, tighten, and even possibly overhaul its homeland security and traveller vetting programs. It’s that these actions should be done in careful consultation with the intelligence and diplomatic communities, as well as our international allies.

President Trump’s Executive Orders have deeper moral and cultural significance about our role in welcoming refugees who have been victims of famine, natural disaster, political repression, and terror.

The EO suspending travel from the seven select countries also could have significant economic repercussions. Included in the ban were international students, lawful permanent residents (green card holders—although it appears that the Trump Administration is retreating from including these Americans after stays were issued in federal district courts), and others. Iran already has responded by threatening ban travel from U.S. citizens. Cutting off economic exchange and disrupting American families with relatives in these nations hardly seems likely to foster our long-term interest to empower moderate leadership and diminish the power of extremists in these nations.

In the coming months, Global Detroit is working with a class of 14 graduate students at the University of Michigan’s Ford School of Public Policy to study the economic impacts that refugee resettlement has had in Southeast Michigan. Based upon similar studies completed in Cleveland and Columbus, we expect to document the millions of dollars of annual economic impact, tax contribution, and job creation by being one of the nation’s leading regions for resettling refugees. This will be important information for our local and state elected officials to consider as the federal government reviews its security processes.

Global Detroit is committed to mobilizing our region’s immigrant potential. We represent a movement of business leaders, state and local elected officials, economic developers, urban planners, and thoughtful observers committed to building America’s economy and local communities. After deep and careful review of the mountains of economic research, we have come to the conclusion that immigrants, particularly in Rust Belt economies like Detroit, greatly contribute to job growth, rapid economic expansion, rising wages and incomes, and the revitalization of cities.

President Trump’s Executive Orders authorizing the construction of a border wall with Mexico and focusing on ramping up deportation efforts also appear to be driven more by a campaign of misinformation and fear then by sound economic or security research. Building an expensive wall (with no strategy to pay for it) to combat unauthorized migration when net migration with Mexico is negative; when Mexicans represent only half of all unauthorized persons; and when 60 percent of the unauthorized persons in America arrive legally can hardly be based on economic research. In fact, according to data released in August 2016 by the New American Economy, undocumented immigrants in Michigan make significant economic and tax contributions to our economy (generating some $50 million in business income and over $250 million in state, local, and federal taxes).

A trade war with Mexico, however, could have serious negative implications for our local economy. Mexico is Michigan’s second largest trade partner (after Canada) and represents 20 percent of our export market. In fact, Metro Detroit is the nation’s largest exporting metropolitan area to Mexico, sending over $15 billion of products and services in 2015, directly impacting more than 100,000 jobs.

The first weeks of the Trump Administration have been chaotic and challenging for those of us who believe that immigrants and refugees can power regional economic growth and prosperity. Global Detroit remains committed to focusing on its mission and vision. We will continue to offer research and to educate regional leaders about the facts of immigration. At the same time, we will continue to pioneer new programs and strategies to revitalize Detroit and transition our regional economy into the 21st Century.

Steve Tobocman is the director of Global Detroit, a regional economic revitalization strategy that mobilizes Metro Detroit’s immigrant potential. Follow @GlobalDET

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