Pittsburgh Tries To Attract Enterprising Immigrants And Refugees
by Irina Zhorov
December 25, 2014
When Ammar Nsaif was 8, in Iraq, he often thought about his future wife and kids, about the car and house and business he’d own. As an adult, he became an electrical engineer and made his 8-year-old self proud.
“Before the war, I did many things,” Nsaif says. “My cousins, my friends, my neighbors, they know Ammar. He’s working, making business. I did very well.”
But he lost everything when he fled Bagdad suddenly, in 2006. Nsaif, 39, says he received a death threat from terrorists over his work with an American company. They already had killed one of his older brothers.
“I thought, ‘I’ll be back to my country after one or two months, once everything is safe,’ ” he says.
Instead, he spent two years in Syria, two in the Netherlands and two in Jordan. Then he and his family received refugee status and came to Pittsburgh, his last stop.
“That, I think, will have to be the last station,” he says. “I’m so tired. I’m done.”
Those words are music to Pittsburgh’s ears, because the city has a plan. While recent headlines have focused on the kinds of stories that make the U.S. sound wary of immigrants — border security, strict new state laws, failed national reform efforts — Pittsburgh is the latest of a number of cities trying to attract them.
“It’s 20,000 new residents over the next 10 years, and a portion of that — if we’re doing it right — should be immigrants,” says Betty Cruz, head of Welcoming Pittsburgh, a new initiative to attract and retain newcomers.
Studies show immigrants start businesses at a higher rate than non-immigrants, and can raise home values when they move into neighborhoods.
Programs like Welcoming Pittsburgh come as a reaction to failed immigration reform, but also because depopulated industrial cities see immigrants as an economic development tool, says Audrey Singer, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Audrey Singer
Pittsburgh is just the latest Rust Belt city trying to boost the demographic — just 7 percent of the city’s residents were born outside the U.S., which is low for an urban area. About 40 other U.S. cities have similar programs, including Philadelphia, Chicago, St. Louis, Columbus and Dayton.
Barbara Murock of the Allegheny County Department of Human Services says Pittsburgh has some catching up to do.
“Back in the ’80s, when immigration was starting to flow into many other large cities, we were having a real economic crisis here, with the steel mills going down,” she says. “Now that we are starting to have an inward migration, we’re really just developing the awareness.”
“It’s kind of like a maze,” she says. “It’s kind of a difficult process to get through.”
Welcoming Pittsburgh hopes to change that by opening government and coordinating various agencies‘ efforts. Singer says it’s too soon to tell if it’s working in other cities, but what some call “deliberate welcoming” enhances the number-one thing city residents need: opportunities.
“I feel here in Pittsburgh I can do many dreams,” he says. “I feel good for [the] future.”
When are we as a people of a sovereign nation going to wake up and ask…..why is it, that our “leaders” have decided that it is better to INVEST in people from other cultures and countries? What is this crap that they are feeding us…that we Americans are TOO uneducated…..and UNSKILLED to make it in this country? Things are so dire…that the “elitists” MUST import PEOPLE to this country of unskilled, uneducated idiots!!!
Who to heck is doing the educating? The very dang government that keeps growing and growing with more and more imports .. and squeezes the natives out! Oh they feed them….but JUST enough to keep them voting!
This story comes from Keystone Crossroads, a statewide public media initiative reporting on the challenges facing Pennsylvania cities.
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