John Austin is director of the Michigan Economic Center. Steve Tobocman is director of Global Detroit and co-chair of the Welcoming Economies Global Network.
Michigan and its sister Rust Belt states were ground zero in the 2016 election. The so-called blue wall collapsed in the face of President Trump’s grandiose pledge to bring back jobs — as well as his finger-pointing at immigrants for the region’s economic woes.
In his first months in office, Trump delivered on his anti-immigrant campaign rhetoric with policy decisions. Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids are shaking immigrant and ethnic communities throughout every corner of the Midwest. In Detroit, the administration’s travel ban from six majority-Muslim countries has rocked large Arab American and Islamic communities. Local Iraqi Christians fear that they may be forcibly returned to Iraq to face persecution or death. Our Syrian American community is blocked from providing a safe harbor for refugees.
What has largely been missing from the headlines, outrage and debate, however, is a deeper understanding of the economic impact of Trump’s immigration approach and how the Midwest will be affected by these policies. In fact, Trump’s policies have already begun destroying one of the few — and arguably the most powerful — sources of new population, innovation, business start-ups and jobs in our region: immigrants.
This month, Trump doubled down on his anti-immigration strategy, throwing his weight behind legislation that would cut legal migration in half and utilize a “merit-based” point system to award visas. This announcement has made clear that his real goal is not just deporting the undocumented or fighting terrorism but significantly curbing legal immigration.
Such policies run counter to the positive stimulus immigrants have on our economy. A new report evaluating the local economic impact of Trump’s immigration policies in Michigan illustrates this effect well:
●Michigan was the only state in the 2010 Census to have lost population. It would still be losing population if not for the 25 percent growth among its now 650,000 foreign-born residents over the past 15 years.
●Over the past two decades, immigrants started 1 in 4 high-tech firms in Michigan despite making up only 6 percent of the population. These firms generated $608 million in business income and employed another 150,000 Michiganders.
●Immigrants often offer highly skilled labor that states such as Michigan need. More than 40 percent of Michigan’s immigrants have a bachelor’s degree or higher — nearly twice the rate as the rest of the state’s population. In fact, a startling 63 percent of immigrants arriving in Michigan since 2010 (and 50 percent of all immigrants to the United States over this period) are college-educated.
●Immigrants make up approximately 25 percent of all Michigan doctors, engineers, computer software and IT specialists, as well as agricultural workers. These are all critical positions where Michigan employers face labor shortages.
Tragically, since Trump took office, our colleges and universities report a big drop in international student applications, slamming the door to the world’s best and brightest finding their way to the American heartland. Michigan’s 32,000 international students pump more than $1 billion annually into the state’s economy and, as in our sister states, comprise half of the students earning graduate STEM degrees.
Meanwhile, Michigan is losing the economic benefit of as many as 5,000 new refugee residents a year. This threatens a vital contributor to the revitalization of struggling inner-ring suburbs in Macomb County and small cities such as Lansing and Battle Creek.
Each of these policies sends a message to the international community that the United States no longer welcomes them, driving a massive decline in the number of international tourists. Analysts believe there has been a 16 percent decline in international tourism to Michigan and other states since Trump took office, a decline that will cost Michigan millions of dollars in economic activity.
At the same time, H-1B applications have fallen by about 16 percent, making it difficult for businesses to find the talent they need. Detroit and Ann Arbor rely heavily on the thousands of nurses and skilled medical personnel who travel across the border from Canada to staff hospitals. Inexplicably, these health-care workers are now facing visa challenges.
Michigan’s economy, as well as those of every other Midwestern community, benefits from immigration. If anything, we need all the immigrants we can get. We cannot afford to let Trump’s policies undo this work and threaten our Rust Belt economic comeback.
In the early 20th century, immigrants made cities such as Detroit, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago, Buffalo and Minneapolis great. They continue to do that today, and we need them to keep doing it.