Dayton's immigration plan is gaining notice
Dayton's plan to help immigrants start a life is gaining notice and has the city growing.
Paint peels off the wood of empty homes, graffiti-covered restaurants decaying with age, and wild cats roam among the overgrown weeds and grass is the view of Dayton's East End. However, less than a quarter mile west of East Third and Bell presents the works of a new life.
'People come here because they want to find the American Dream.'
"The city has been losing residents for decades with big companies like GM leaving the area," said Francisco PelŠez Diaz, a Hispanic Missionary pastor at Dayton's College Hill Community Church and one of the founders of Welcome Dayton, the municipal initiative to attract immigrants. "What is happening is that these immigrants are repopulating the city. What many people are doing is coming, buying vacant houses and fixing them up because housing is very affordable in Dayton."
Dayton flourished as one of the country's manufacturing cities after World War II. The city's population rose almost 16 percent between the years of 1940 and 1950, with another 7.6 percent in the next decade. But as more businesses left for cheaper labor overseas in the 70's and 80's, Dayton's population seemed to wither. In the last 40 years, the city's population went from 243,601 in 1970 to 141,527 in 2010, a 41.6 percent decrease.
The city's economic downfall was caused by the departure of its signature companies in the last ten years. National Cash Register Company, or NCR, opened in Dayton in 1884, and moved to Atlanta in 2009. GM closed its huge Moraine Assembly plant in 2009, which left over 2,400 jobs.
"After GM left it was like a triple effect. said Patricia Rickman, former GM employee and the chair of Dayton's Southwest Priority Board. "All the other factories started laying off, closing up and leaving town. It was really devastating to this city."
After the city's businesses left, unemployment attacked. Currently 10.3 percent of Dayton's citizens are unemployed, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. And as the vanishing population left more and more empty homes, the city saw a solution where others saw a problem: immigrants.
The debate over immigration started with the introduction of strict immigration laws in Arizona, Alabama, and Georgia. While those states adopted the immigration laws, Dayton adopted the "Welcome Dayton" plan. The proposed plan involves ideas to help immigrants start small businesses and companies, have them involved in local government, and have certain health and social services.
"The things these immigrants here are bringing are good things," PelŠez Diaz said. "They are rebuilding houses, they are hard working people, they're family oriented and they're bringing energy to the city."
Key points to the "Welcome Dayton" plan is to find and support a business district for immigrants, increase immigrant participation in local governments, increase trust, overcome language barriers, and to review all laws that create barriers that are unnecessary for immigrants. The plan is viewed as a potential model for cities who are facing a similar struggle.
Instead of checking people's immigration status, the city is going along with the proposal as long as immigrants are contributing to the community and not committing crimes.
"I think what you'll find is that other states and cities are reacting to a perceived problem instead of being proactive," Dayton's Mayor Gary Leitzell said. "I've spoken to people who have been here illegally for over 10 years, and they're married with kids and I think the issue then becomes you do them an injustice by deporting them."
"People come here because they want to find the American Dream," Juan Urbieta, who came to the U.S. from Guanajuato, Mexico at the age of 14 in the trunk of a car almost 20 years ago, and is now married, said. "As an immigrant you have to have goals, you have to plan them and you have to go for them."
© 2012, Distributed by NEWS CONSORTIUM.
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Pope Benedict XVI's Prayer Intentions for January 2013
General Intention: The Faith of Christians. That in this Year of Faith Christians may deepen their knowledge of the mystery of Christ and witness joyfully to the gift of faith in him.
Missionary Intention: Middle Eastern Christians. That the Christian communities of the Middle East, often discriminated against, may receive from the Holy Spirit the strength of fidelity and perseverance.
Keywords: immigration, plan, proposal, city, growth
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