Monday, June 02, 2008

Cleveburgh Xenophobia

Richard Herman red flags a disturbing development in Cleveland:

The City of Cleveland, however, stands in stark contrast to the ongoing revitalization being experienced by Columbus and many other cities across the United States. "This is by far the worse city in the country for immigrants, in terms of how we are treated," said 43-year-old Abdi Omar, the co-owner of USA Taxi, a company that has a fleet of 45 cabs that are being virtually run out of business by a xenophobic city administration. "In cities all across the country Somalis and other immigrants are starting new businesses and rebuilding neighborhoods, but here in Cleveland there is a concerted effort to slam the door shut in our faces." Omar cited cities like Minneapolis, Louisville, Seattle, San Diego and Indianapolis as welcoming places for industrious immigrants, and wonders why Cleveland city officials just don't get it.

Attracting immigrants is difficult enough and Cleveland sure could use the economic development that newcomers typically spark. Unfortunately, Cleveland isn't alone. A letter to the editor in today's Post-Gazette highlights the barriers to more immigration to Pittsburgh:

America is being hurt by educating foreign students

In response to a May 18 article on H-1B visas, letter writer Brad Burke called our current immigration policy destructive because we force many talented foreign students out of the country upon graduation ("We Become Stronger With Skilled Foreign Workers," May 27). However, it is our policy toward foreign students that is destructive.

History will show that our post-World War II free-trade policy has fostered the creation of numerous industrial nations that can now out-compete us economically. In part, this is because we have exported the capital of industrial, scientific and computer know-how to these competitors.

Just as the import/export playing field is asymmetrical, so is the playing field of higher education. Because of host country laws, it is nearly impossible to get any sort of financial assistance as an American graduate student abroad, while no such restrictions apply to foreign students here. Free-market enthusiasts make facile arguments about efficiencies, but pragmatically we get billions spent on low-cost Chinese goods at Wal-Mart. Similarly, universities simplistically argue that they should select students based only on their academic credentials, without concern for the ramifications.

As Mr. Burke points out, most of the students whose educational opportunities we taxpayers have been funding do not stay in the United States, but return home to strengthen their own countries. Meanwhile the hopes and dreams of qualified American students are crushed. The solution is not to retain the foreign students, but to keep them out by instituting the same protective laws used by our closest competitors. If we did that, the H-1B visa restrictions would be a moot issue.

The lack of understanding concerning globalization is striking. And from what I'm reading, the author of the letter is wrong about foreign students competing for financial assistance. In fact, foreign students are highly sought after because they pay more into the system, particularly at public universities.

Like Cleveland,
Pittsburgh struggles to affect a cosmopolitan outlook and drumming up support for liberalizing immigration regulations is a hard slog. But the news out of Cleveland is disconcerting. Failing to support the immigrant business community is akin to shooting yourself in the foot.

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