As rancor over young immigrants from Central America rises in some cities, one Midwestern mayor is welcoming the nation's newest residents and their potential to fuel growth, the National Journal
"What we're trying to do is attract and retain the best and brightest minds, including immigrants, to our community to help make sure that we can compete in the global economy," St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay said in a National Journal Q&A article. "We know that immigrants are a big part of the new businesses. Other cities that have higher levels of immigration have grown economically, population-wise, and we want to be part of that."
Slay says his city is among many in the Rust Belt where population is waning. Energizing it with new residents only makes sense as they inject tax revenue into the region and a new striving climate focused on prosperity. He adds that his interest is in all types of citizens, not simply highly educated immigrant programs like the Mosaic Project, which focuses on corporate needs.
His city will open its arms to 60 illegal border children from Central America, housed in three facilities, which he said his city has proudly supported amid outcry elsewhere that the children must be sent home.
"We did this because it's the right thing to do. You have thousands of young teens who have come into our country, who are now housed in government detention centers near the border. They're scared, they're alone, and they have no place to go. We are a caring community," Slay said, citing the outpouring of charitable groups that rose to the occasion to help.
"To me, this isn't about politics, this is about people and kids that need help," he said. "We're going to leave the debate and the blame-game to Washington and maybe someday they will come to an agreement on immigration reform."
As tensions die down a bit in nearby Ferguson, Missouri,
where a police officer is under investigation for the Aug. 9 shooting of teenager Michael Brown, St. Louis has felt the impact. But Slay says he won't let that get in the way of his city trying to learn and become better in bridging its racial divide.
"There's a lot of anger in the community, and of course that has manifested itself in large-scale protests and in some cases violence and looting and other things," he said. "So it does impact the image of our city, and that is not a good thing. It's something that we as a community are going to work really hard to deal with and approach in the very best way, in very difficult circumstances … It's certainly not going to deter us from our efforts to make St. Louis a more welcoming place for more people, a place of opportunity, a place where we respect everyone and do anything we can to make sure that anyone who comes to our city can feel like they are an important part of the community."
Cities — including Ferguson — are examining the implications of race and diversity, The Wall Street Journal
noted of the aftermath. Slay said there remains opportunity from the tragedy to better look after those who need help.
"What's happening in Ferguson is really something that has risen to the top in a more visible way, to more people in cities across America," he told the National Journal. "And how we're viewed as a city, how we're viewed as a region, really comes down to what we do for our most vulnerable citizens."
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