In the suburbs and countryside of Rust Belt swing states, President Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant message may have carried the day, but in St. Louis and the rest of the region’s dilapidated, post-industrial cities, it’s anathema.
Immigrants in those cities have stabilized neighborhoods, cushioned city coffers and, in the process, supported credit ratings and bond sales. Mayors from Detroit to Cleveland – as well as northeastern cities like Albany, New York, and Lowell, Massachusetts – see financial salvation in these newest Americans and are dismayed by Trump’s drive to tighten the borders.
St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay raves about the booming Bosnian immigrant community in his city.
“We were losing population and people more than almost any city in America before the Bosnians came,” said Slay, a Democrat. “They’ve helped us revitalize this city.”
Much of the Rust Belt’s pain comes from the excruciating transition it’s making to a service-sector economy from one predicated on manufacturing. In its cities, the share of the nation’s employment dropped to 27 percent in 2000 from 43 percent in 1950, according to one study. Sustaining population has been a struggle: More than half of 23 municipalities, including Detroit, Syracuse, and Toledo, saw losses from 2000 to 2014, according to census data.
The U.S. Conference of Mayors has decried Trump’s measures, pointing to a tradition of providing “safe haven, freedom and opportunity.” Leaders of cities including Los Angeles, Dallas, Seattle, Louisville, Phoenix and Boston spoke out separately, many saying immigrants were key to prosperity.
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