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Cities hope to improve drawing power by becoming more immigrant-friendly

Life in the city could be a whole lot more immigrant-friendly with policies being implemented in many metro areas.

Economists often say that in order for a country or state to thrive, there has to be a tremendous amount of business activity at the city level. But as recent reports have shown, some parts of the country have seen a steady decline in population, as companies leave certain cities for what they believe are more business-friendly locations.

This has been a theme in Baltimore, Maryland, so much so that the state's capital has seen its population recede virtually every year since World War II concluded in 1945.

"A shrinking city is a place unable to meet even the most basic needs of its people," said Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, the city's sitting mayor, when she was sworn into office during her inaugural address last year.

In order to add to the city's numbers, Rawlings-Blake says the best strategy is to appeal to immigrants.

According to the National League of Cities, in partnership with the nonprofit organization Next American City, Baltimore is hoping to make its economy grow by implementing the strategies and policies that immigrants are attracted to from a standpoint of employment, as many foreign residents who live in the U.S. work long hours so they can send money home to their families.

One-quarter of Baltimore businesses are immigrant-owned
Though some may question why Rawlings-Blake is appealing to immigrants specifically, she says that most would have a better understanding of her thinking process when they take into consideration Baltimore's history. It's founding is rich in immigration entrepreneurship, and more contemporary examples are evidence of this. She notes that 25 percent of Baltimore's small businesses are owned and operated by immigrants today, even though immigrants comprise 9 percent of the city's population and 12 percent of the work force, according to the Fiscal Policy Institute.

In other words, they have an incongruent impact on the city's economy, but in a good way. Thus, because they contribute so much to Baltimore's financial system, more immigrant-friendly policies should make up the difference.

Some of the ways in which the city has attempted to make life in the city more appealing for immigrants is by holding training sessions for newly arrived immigrants to help them better understand their legal requirements. They have also tried to make it easier for immigrant entrepreneurs to obtain loans that can help them launch a start-up business, the NLC and NAC report.

Houston now more diverse
Baltimore is far from the only city that's implementing stronger immigration policies. According to Rice University's Kinder Institute for Urban Research, Houston, Texas, is much more diverse than it has been in recent years. Researchers attribute the greater diversification to a more direct focus on multiculturalism.

"The majority of the Houston metropolitan area’s growth has taken place since 1965, fueled by diverse immigrants and the children they have had since arriving," said Michael Emerson, director of the Kinder Institute and co-author of the study. "As a result, the degree of diversity has even surpassed the nation’s largest metro area, New York City."

The authors note that 1965 was a particularly important year in the history of U.S immigration law, as that was the year in which the U.S. began giving the same number of visas to every country in the world. Since then, more countries have taken advantage, to the point in which Africa, Latin America and Asia now account for the majority of immigrants who come to the U.S. In the 1960s, the immigrant population was mainly made up of Europeans.

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