Dayton, Ohio Welcomes Immigrants Fleeing Harsh Anti-Immigrant Laws In Other States

While other states are cracking down undocumented immigrants — and scaring away legal immigrants at the same time — one town is embracing them. Dayton, Ohio officials adopted the “Welcome to Dayton” plan on Oct. 5 to encourage immigrants to settle in their city. They see the potential influx of new residents as a way to boost the city’s economy, while states like Alabama and Georgia that have extreme anti-immigrant laws are seeing their economies suffer.

Before the Dayton city commission unanimously approved the plan, Mayor Gary Leitzell, whom the local Republican party endorsed in 2009, said immigrants bring “new ideas, new perspectives and new talent to our workforce. … To reverse the decades-long trend of economic decline in this city, we need to think globally.” The city’s unemployment rate is 11 percent, two points higher than the national rate, yet the number of foreign-born residents in Dayton has increased 57 percent in 10 years to 5,102. So far, this has been a boon as manufacturers have left the area:

City leaders aiming to turn Dayton around started examining the immigrant population: Indian doctors in hospitals; foreign-born professors and graduate students at the region’s universities; and owners of new small businesses such as a Turkish family’s New York Pizzeria on the city’s east side and Hispanic-run car lots, repair shops and small markets. They say immigrants have revitalized some rundown housing, moving into and fixing up what had been vacant homes. […]

Dayton officials say their plan still needs funding and volunteers to help put it in place; they hope by the end of the year. Its key tenets include increasing information and access to government, social services and housing issues; language education and help with identification cards, and grants and marketing help for immigrant entrepreneurs to help build the East Third Street section.

We will be more diverse, we will grow, we will have more restaurants, more small businesses,” said Tom Wahlrab, the city’s human relations council director, who helped lead the plan’s development.

City officials say those who are illegally in the United States will still be subject to U.S. law; however, Ohio does not have an extreme statewide law like Alabama’s HB 56, which even makes it a felon for many undocumented immigrants to have water in their own homes. Farms and businesses in Alabama have lost workers as immigrants have fled the state, and few Alabamians have stepped in to take the jobs left behind. Without a comparably harsh law in Ohio, the southern state’s loss could be Ohio’s gain: one restaurant manager in Dayton said he has already heard of families planning to move there from Alabama.