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Kashmeri: Immigrant Friendly

10/27/11 5:55PM By Sarwar Kashmeri
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(Host) Commentator Sarwar Kashmeri thinks that the anti-immigration sentiment in many parts of the country may offer a golden opportunity to jump-start Vermont's economy and reverse our population decline.

(Kashmeri) Vermont's economy needs a shot in the arm. A small and aging population, scarcity of jobs, and the recent devastation by hurricane Irene have left Vermont with declining options to reverse its economic trajectory. Gradual improvements, even if these are possible, will not do much to help the state. What we need is a bold, out of the box strategy to reverse this trend. Here's my thought.

I'd like to see us defy the national trend, and make Vermont a magnet for immigrants. As Georgia, Alabama, Arizona, and others pass laws that turn their states into anti-immigrant territories, we should enact a bold campaign to do the opposite. We could buy billboard space on every highway leading out of immigrant unfriendly States to announce that Vermont welcomes immigrants.

If you believe that an influx of immigrants wouldn't be good for Vermont's economy, I'd invite you to look at their impact on NY City.

A recently article in the NY Times pointed out that immigrants own nearly half of all the small businesses in the Big Apple, even though they only make up a third of the city's population. Small businesses create over 80% of all new jobs in America, so this statistic by itself explains much of New York City's perpetual resiliency, vibrancy and excitement.
Besides dominating business sectors such as transportation, construction, and manufacturing, immigrants in the Big Apple are also big players in the high-tech businesses that Vermont wants to attract - including computer systems, architectural, and engineering design services. Vermont's farming sector of course already relies on immigrants to keep it running.

If you think this strategy does not suit a small New England state, guess again! Rhode Island has already tacked in this direction. The Boston Globe reports that Governor Chafee has set a mean pace to make Rhode Island an immigrant friendly state: He has demolished the E-verify system for checking workers' status, led a successful campaign to grant in-state tuition to unauthorized immigrants, and has begun to study the impact of letting them have driver's licenses.

I say we double Rhode Island's stakes to encourage immigrants to pick Vermont as their destination of choice. Let's do everything that RI does and then some. How about a Vermont version of the 19 th century Federal land grants program for example?

Governor Shumlin is doing a good job of managing Vermont's recovery from hurricane Irene. But that will only return the State to its economic and population status quo. Vermont needs a long term plan to ratchet up the state's economy. I think we should learn from Rhode Island and NY - open Vermont's borders to all immigrants.

What's to lose but an economy that's stuck in the sand and a population that is declining in productivity by the year.
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