Could Immigration Save Detroit?

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Things are bad in Detroit right now. The city, which for years has declined alongside the U.S. auto industry, faces high unemployment, low civil services, a high rate of foreclosure, and high crime. But all of those factors have created a potentially much more disastrous problem: People are fleeing Detroit. The long-term population decrease, accelerated in recent years, has created a residential vacancy rate of 27.8 percent. That's high enough that many in Detroit now say there is no remaining choice but to demolish entire swathes of the city.

Could there be a solution to Detroit's dropping population? As pundits both within and without the city have pointed out, there are an estimated 165 million non-Americans who would like to move to the U.S. Could they be coaxed into moving to Detroit?

  • Urban Homesteading By Migrants Michigan Live's Jonathan Oosting writes, "One intriguing idea that continues to gain traction is the enactment of a local homestead act, offering immigrants land or citizenship in exchange for agreements to improve it or the city in some way."
  • Citizenship For Rich Immigrants The Traverse City Record-Eagle's Phil Power suggests, "Let's create a new urban homestead program. Offer anybody with $1 million in assets who wants to move to Detroit the possibility of citizenship. Bring your million; get your work permit; start a business; stay five years. Bingo! You're an American citizen, participating in one of the most exciting urban redevelopment projects of our day." Power says the city should attract white-collar workers so they don't displace the fragile blue collar economy.
  • Bustling Immigrant Hub Liberal blogger Matthew Yglesias writes, "Economic and governance opportunities in Detroit are poor by American standards (or even by Italian standards) but they're great compared to what you'll find in Haiti, Gaza, Myanmar, Chad, or Nicaragua. There's discussion of trying to turn Detroit into some kind of hub for wealthy immigrants who are just trying to escape a bad political situation, but there's simply a limited number of such people, and the real opportunity is in thinking bigger and creating a kind of Detroit Special Migration Zone that would become a diverse, bustling hub of economic opportunity for the world's poor while providing new taxpayers for Detroit's government, new customers for Detroit's businesses, and a new source of value for Detroit's property owners. It'll never happen for a million reasons, but I'd love to see it."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.