Posted on April 28, 2024

Let Immigrants Save the Heartland

Editorial Board, Washington Post, April 20, 2024

The population of Providence, R.I., has barely held even since 2020. Had it not been for some 8,300 immigrants who settled in Saint Joseph County, it would have shrunk by 1.3 percent by last year. Same in South Bend, Ind., where some 1,700 immigrants into the county barely filled a gap left by locals ditching town.

Immigrants slowed demographic decline in more than 1,100 counties from 2020 to 2023, according to census estimates. Their numbers made up more than the entire growth of the population in 131 of them. The demographic reality casts immigration in a different light, not as a burden but as an opportunity: a powerful tool to lift vast swaths of America that prosperity has left behind.

It would require smart policy and political will — neither of which is plentiful in Washington, but Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s (R) idea of busing migrants to cause political pain in blue jurisdictions could, unwittingly, be put to valuable use: encouraging migrants to rekindle economic development in depopulating cities such as Buffalo, Akron or Detroit, which have struggled to keep up with the economic transformations of the past 30 years.

Adding people might not revive beleaguered towns that have lost their economic rationale, however. If people have moved out, it’s largely because the jobs have gone, too. Still, for legacy industrial cities on the edge of decline, arresting population loss is imperative to avoid entering a downward spiral.

There is a precedent: the refugee resettlement program. Troubled cities in Upstate New York, for instance, have benefited enormously from thousands of refugees who have settled in communities along the Erie Canal; so much so that cities have tried to lure them.


There would be upfront costs. Shuttered schools would need to be refurbished. Local services might be strained, at first. But migrants would provide not only labor — potentially useful for elderly residents, who need help with tasks such as cooking or shopping, left behind in these places.


For anything like this to work, of course, asylum seekers would need certainty that they can stay and work. {snip}