Experts say that immigrants can help bolster a community's declining population, but many small towns, which are common in the West, struggle to attract them. Gateways For Growth (G4G) is a national program that tries to help these towns become welcoming to immigrant populations.
"We really focus on making the economic case for smarter immigration reform," said NAE's director of state and local initiative, Mo Kantner. "So the way we do that is we have an amazing research team that can look at the role of immigrants within specific communities within specific industries and within sort of subsets of the quote-unquote immigrant population. So looking at those that are highly skilled and working in the STEM field or looking at refugees or looking at the DACA population. And we use this original research to really bring people together from both sides of the aisle who were really tired of having these polarized conversations and wanted to have a baseline conversation rooted in the fact of immigration and how we need immigrants as a country."
According to Kantner, most of the work G4G does is in red or purple states. Communities that have a population of over 100,000 can apply for assistance in three possible areas: research into the impact of immigrants on their area, tailored technical assistance for an immigrant welcoming plan, or grants to support immigrant integration. Kantner said some small communities that have too small of a population have joined together to apply for the program.
"In general, where we tend to find the most interest from communities is where there is a bit of population decline - where there is this risk of a combination of an aging population and a population that's leaving some of these sort of Midwest communities that are looking for opportunities elsewhere," said Kantner. "And that's really where immigrants can play a huge role in helping support those communities and revive some of those local economies and communities."
Kantner said there are usually a few similarities between communities that are more attractive to immigrants and the support participants receive can help them become more like those communities.
"A lot of the times it's access to a job. It's filling in those job openings and those job gaps that we're seeing in places across the country, that can be really compelling for an immigrant community," said Kanter. "And then the second thing they look for is for others within their own community. That's how they can transition to a community within the U.S. a bit more smoothly."
Most states in the Mountain West have a community that is involved in the program, but Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico do not.
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