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New federal limits on immigration imperil Buffalo’s economic future

Buffalo is a city built by immigrants. Those who passed through Ellis Island in New York City could take advantage of the Erie Canal and railroad lines to seek opportunities in Western New York. The Dutch and English came, followed by the Germans, Irish, Poles, Italians and others. African Americans migrated here from the South, followed by Puerto Ricans.

Another wave came in this century. Between 2006 and 2013, according to the city, the foreign-born population in Buffalo increased by 95%. Refugees from Burma, Thailand, Ethiopia, Sudan and Pakistan have helped revive neighborhoods.

Buffalo Niagara needs immigrants, not to honor our past but to secure our future. The Trump administration’s increasing restrictions on foreign-born citizens threaten our best hope for increasing our population, filling jobs that enable economic expansion, and enriching the fabric of our community.

The U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement has long classified Buffalo as a “preferred community” for newcomers seeking new opportunities. Refugees are individuals fleeing persecution, violence, tyranny or intolerance in their homelands. A handful of resettlement agencies in Buffalo Niagara help new arrivals find their footing here.

Some may dismiss our moral imperative to welcome others, but the economic facts are beyond dispute.

Buffalo Business First published an analysis last week of data from the U.S. Census Bureau that were it not for foreign immigration, Erie County would be losing approximately 2,500 people per year. As it is, the county population decreases by about eight people per day, the study said. We are diminished by the loss of each one.

Oddly enough, President Trump’s acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, acknowledged the importance of immigration to expanding the nation’s labor pool when speaking at a private event in England last week. An audio recording of his remarks was provided to The New York Times.

“We are desperate, desperate for more people,” Mulvaney said. “We are running out of people to fuel the economic growth.” He said the country needed “more immigrants” to come here in a “legal” fashion.

Regrettably, the president plans to reduce the number of refugees resettling in the U.S. this year to 18,000, down from 30,000 last year and 110,000 in 110,000. The White House also announced strict new limits on immigration from Burma, Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Nigeria, Sudan and Tanzania.

The new policies will cut like a knife into Buffalo’s large Burmese community. Refugees from Burma – even those who are now naturalized U.S. citizens – will no longer be able to sponsor nonrefugee relatives from Burma, including a spouse or child, who want to move to the United States. Relatives classified as refugees may still apply.

The U.S. health care industry, a major employer in Buffalo Niagara, depends on talent from overseas. Foreign-trained doctors make up 25% of all physicians in this country, according to the American Immigration Council. Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, is a particularly strong contributor. Census estimates from 2017 show about 350,000 U.S. residents were born in Nigeria, which is more people than live in St. Louis or Pittsburgh. One in three Nigerian immigrants are employed in the U.S. health care industry, according to Partnership for a New American Economy.

Immigrants are the solution to shortages of doctors, nurses and medical technicians, particularly in rural communities where the population is in steep decline.

The Catholic Church has turned to foreign-born priests to replenish its depleted ranks.

Birth rates in the United States are falling. And our aging population needs younger workers to pay taxes and to fund Social Security and Medicare so that they don’t run out of money.

Refugees and other immigrants seeking a better life are our best hope to stabilize our economy, for Buffalo Niagara and the rest of the U.S. Slamming the door on them now will cause pain later for those already living in America.

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