Iraqi immigrants would give Detroit area a boost

The U.S. government is proposing to help resettle several hundred refugees and immigrants from Iraq to Detroit. The Iraqi immigrants are coming from among former employees of the U.S. government or U.S. government-sponsored contractors. In addition, many of the new, legal immigrants from the Middle East are Chaldean Christians who have fled religious turmoil.

Unfortunately, the U.S. government plans have created a minicontroversy in Detroit, where some public officials have criticized the plans.

The criticism, we believe, is unnecessary and shortsighted.

After all, if any region in the United States needs new immigrants, it’s the Detroit metropolitan area, which surveys suggest is now in danger of losing population because of the long economic downturn that has gripped the area.

New, “legal” immigrants could reverse the trend. Traditionally, new immigrants also bring with them new hope, new ideas and new economic activity and vitality.

Donald Grimes, a University of Michigan economist and a close student of the regional economy, has noted that many of the new immigrants have advanced degrees and other skills that will benefit the local economy.

Moreover, Detroit is one of the few communities in the United States with a network of self-help and religious institutions with a keen interest in reaching out to and helping new immigrants from the Middle East.

The accident of history has left Detroit with a strong network of Chaldean churches, schools and professional associations.

The Chaldean network has been augmented by the expansion of Islamic institutions in the Detroit area, which occurred in the early 1990s, when the region became the destination of choice for thousands of refugees fleeing religious and political persecution in what was Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

Today, Detroit has the second largest community of Shiites in North America. Only Los Angeles, which is the home of thousands of refugees from Iran, has a larger Shiite community.

Thus, the metropolitan area, contrary to the comments from the doom-andgloom brigade, is well-prepared to absorb the new influx of immigrants from the war-torn Middle East.

The fears about additional unemployment also are overstated.

The unemployment around Detroit has been triggered by the swift downsizing in the manufacturing sector, where jobs have been shifted to Mexico and China by the long-running trends unleashed by globalization.

Grimes notes that the Iraqi immigrants are coming out of a completely different culture and different economic tradition. The new refugees bring with them an entrepreneurial spirit the region can use to its advantage as it rebuilds in the years to come, Grimes said.

The new immigrants and refugees coming into the region also could help fill up the empty houses and apartments around the metro area and help end the decline in home value, which threatens to retard any economic recovery.

The ultimate reason for accepting the new immigrants, however, isn’t economic. It’s also the right thing to do.

Many of these new immigrants stood – side by side – with American soldiers in the struggles in Iraq. Making them welcome is in the spirit of the very best American traditions and values.

We hope a few critics aren’t allowed to extinguish what genuinely could become a very positive development.