City leaders sent a message to residents last week: Immigrants and their businesses are welcome in Springfield.
However one statewide political action committee believes bringing immigrants to municipal areas isn’t the way to turn around population declines in Ohio cities.
Commissioners unanimously approved a resolution last week that calls for the city to adopt policies that promote the inclusion and integration of immigrants in the community.
Springfield will join other cities like Dayton and Columbus that have formed Welcoming America, a voluntary network of immigrant friendly communities. Last week Cincinnati also launched a new task force on the issue.
The city was approached about the legislation by Welcome Springfield, a nonprofit organization founded earlier this year to advocate for new foreign-born residents. With the growing Hispanic population in Springfield, it made sense to pass the resolution, Mayor Warren Copeland said.
A proactive approach toward immigrants also can stem population losses that threaten economic stability, the resolution says.
“We have these folks in our community and they need to be included and considered part of the community,” Copeland said.
It sends a statement both to immigrants and businesses who employ immigrants, said Welcome Springfield Executive Director Carl Ruby, a South Charleston resident.
“When it comes to a business deciding whether or not they’re going to expand, the fact that there’s community support for their workforce I think is going to be very helpful,” he said.
Ruby has met with Clark County commissioners and hopes they’ll pass a similar resolution in the future. Welcome Springfield is also working with a variety of organizations to help immigrants tackle both health-care and financial literacy challenges.
The Ohio Jobs & Justice Political Action Committee, however, believes many of the immigrants aren’t starting businesses and have a difficult time assimilating to the United States. It eventually leads to them accepting social services, founder Steve Salvi said.
Salvi called the resolution “an insult” to city residents and said it won’t reverse a declining population. Springfield should work to attract U.S. citizens back to the area.
“No one hates immigrants,” Salvi said. “(Residents) are already welcoming. Why do you have to put it down on paper? It just doesn’t make any sense to me.”
The vast majority of immigrants are hard-working people who are trying to make a contribution to the community and raise families, Copeland said.
“That’s what we want in citizens,” he said. “If they are legal, hard-working citizens following the law, we want to welcome them to Springfield.”
Boler Cuy Castellanos, a native of Guatamala, moved to the area last August with his wife, Diana, a Springfield native. He opened his own business, Boler’s Garage, 412 Linden Ave., last October after moving from Pennsylvania.
Compared to other areas he’s lived in across the United States, he said Springfield has been friendly and the city’s resolution is good news for immigrants.
“It sounds very nice to open the doors to people coming from other countries,” Cuy Castellanos said.
The resolution, however, doesn’t mean the city is open to sheltering children from the southern border, Copeland said.
From a year-long debate on broader immigration reform, an immediate humanitarian crisis has emerged at the country’s southern border.
More than 57,000 minors, many unaccompanied, have arrived since October mostly from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.
At issue is a 2008 law designed to protect children from trafficking by gangs and other criminals. Minors from other countries are allowed to make their case directly to an immigration judge; that process can take years amid a backlog of cases. In the meantime, those children remain in the U.S. with family members or with sponsors while they await hearings in the clogged system.
House Republicans and Senate Democrats advanced competing proposals last week for dealing with the influx of tens of thousands of young migrants. Each side quickly ruled the other’s approach unacceptable, leaving any solution unclear with Congress’ annual August recess looming.
Comments by Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley recently stirred controversy when she said Dayton was willing to be a destination if Congress approves funding to shelter the children.
Springfield’s resolution has no connection to that issue, Copeland said. The city has no capacity to deal with the children, he said.
“As a community, we’re not offering to have kids brought here who’ve been coming across the border,” Copeland said. “I know some other communities have been doing that. We don’t feel we’re ready to do that. That’s not what this is about. These discussions began long before the current discussion about the border.”
Staff writers Thomas Gnau, Chelsey Levingston, Lot Tan, Michael D. Pitman and The Associated Press contributed to this report.