Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, paid a visit yesterday to International Institute of Akron, which was coordinated with a new report on Ohio Congressional District 13 that points to significant spending and voting power among foreign-born residents. The report points out that these residents also are critical to home ownership and the local workforce.
During the visit, Ryan heard first-hand from International Institute staff and volunteers, along with a number of refugees. “We need to do a better job getting these stories out,” said Ryan, who reflected on his own Italian immigrant background in his home city of Youngstown. “My parents were Italian,” he said. “I remember hearing stories of them growing up and about how the Italians were the group who were discriminated against.”
He also heard the stories of some foreign-born entrepreneurs, like Naresh Subba, who came to Northeast Ohio as a student, earning a doctorate in nuclear physics from Kent State University, then opening Family Groceries in North Hill and serving as a leader in the local Bhutanese community. Also at the table was Rollin Mukanza, who started a business cleaning carpets at local businesses.
“That’s the immigrant spirit; the calculated risks you’re willing to take,” said Ryan. “We’re all in this together. We’re all human beings, who want to raise our kids and have a good life. We stand with you. Tell your family and friends they are welcome in this country.”
Ryan said his office has recently received an increase in residents who want to get involved politically. Liz Walters, Community Outreach Coordinator for International Institute of Akron, said there also has been a surge of residents showing up to volunteer orientations for the organization.
The refugee resettlement agency also released a report called “Map the Impact,” in conjunction with the New American Economy, which looks at the impact of the foreign-born population on Ohio Congressional District 13 (which is Ryan’s district). According to the report, immigrant spending power was $342 million in 2014. The report points out that foreign-born residents with less than a high school degree, along with those with graduate degrees, make up a higher percentage than the native-born population in the district, making foreign-born residents a crucial element to both the lower and upper reaches of the workforce.
The 13th District, which comprises parts of Summit, Portage, Trumbull and Mahoning counties, has nearly 23,000 immigrant residents, 3 percent of its population. More than 5,000 homes in the district are owned by immigrants, and household income totals $468 million, with $125 million in taxes paid. Immigrants also are more than 30 percent more likely to be entrepreneurs than native-born residents, according to the report.
Making our city welcoming to refugees and immigrants has helped reverse population decline, said Elaine Woloshyn, executive director of International Institute of Akron, who added that through the help of city and county government, Akron has been named a Welcoming City, a national designation.
“We in Akron know that by walking down Main Street on North Hill that immigrants and refugees draw economic growth. You can see it,” she said, adding that immigrants are also buying houses and opening new businesses.
At the meeting, Madhu Sharma, immigration services director for International Institute of Akron, discussed the impact of the recent Presidential Executive Order on immigration. She said there is a 120-day freeze on resettlement, with an indefinite freeze on resettlement from Syria. This will lead to a more than 50-percent decrease of resettled residents this year.
As an immigration attorney, Sharma said she hopes to see some type of reform and challenges to the current enforcement strategy. “There are some economies at risk if we don’t find immigration reform,” she said.
Ryan pointed out that if economies like agriculture are affected by lower immigration numbers, this could potentially drive up the prices of food. Woloshyn agreed, saying that stalling immigration will negatively affect economic growth.
For info, visit www.iiakron.org.