Saturday, November 28, 2015

Immigrants Are Good For The Adirondacks

ADAC LogoWe are in the midst of a major geopolitical crisis over immigration, fueled by war and catalyzed by terrorism. It’s no secret that one consequence is a rising tide of anti-immigration sentiment here in the United States. Recent events have prejudiced our long debate over illegal immigrants and secure borders to the point where any sensible discussion of policy has been all but drowned out.

To many older Americans, this wave of anger and fear is breathtaking in its reactionary rhetoric. Talk of registration, ID cards, screening based upon religious beliefs and denial of admission to entire nationalities calls to mind other governments and times so hostile to our ideals that more than half a million Americans have paid the ultimate price since World War Two to defeat them.  To me, this cowardly retreat from our values is beneath contempt.   But the bigger tragedy is that all this sturm und drang threatens to make us forget a simple truth: immigrants are good for America. For those of us who live in the North Country this fact applies even more strongly than it does to other parts of the nation. Immigrants are very good for the Adirondacks.

As we all know, Adirondack demographics don’t look so good.  The dual national phenomena of an aging baby boom and rural flight are impacting our communities. The average age of North Country residents is increasing (heading north of fifty) at the same time that school enrollments are declining. Meanwhile, as the rest of New York State is rapidly becoming more culturally diverse, the Adirondacks remain in a literal and figurative monochromatic stasis. The region risks becoming an ever-less-relevant cultural and social island.

Reinforcing these negative trends are the unique economic pressures our residents face. Extractive industries such as mining and logging are all but dead and tourism is a seasonal phenomenon. Population densities, infrastructure, and transportation challenges discourage large corporate employers from locating here. Small businesses are the backbone of our economy. This is more true than elsewhere in the country – we need more “main street” businesses.

To all our demographic, cultural and economic challenges, the promise of an increase in immigrants provide a compelling response, right down the line. While the median age of immigrants is a bit higher than the national average, it is in line with the median age in the Adirondack region and lower than the projected median age over the next 15 years. More important, most immigrants are families who will put their children in schools. Multiple studies show that over the last decade increases in school enrollments in the United States are almost entirely due to immigrants. Immigrants to the United States are more varied than ever before in history, fueling a more diverse and culturally rich American society. An increase in immigrants to the Adirondacks would lower the median age, increase school enrollments and enhance diversity.

Of equal importance, a positive flow of immigrants would also improve the Adirondack economy. That’s because the very back bone of the Park’s economy – “main street” businesses – would get a shot in the arm.

Last Saturday I attended a retreat and workshop in Blue Mountain Lake on Immigration and Upstate Economic Development, convened by the Fiscal Policy Institute, International Institute of Buffalo, Centerstate CEO, and the New York Immigration Coalition. The workshop was focused on four upstate areas – Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and the Capitol Region – but they generously invited the Adirondack Diversity Advisory Council (ADAC) and the Adirondack Foundation to contribute a North Country perspective and learn more about the issues, which we certainly did. The primary topic was how leadership in upstate New York can improve their local economies by welcoming, retaining, and removing barriers to immigrants.

As a basis to support the discussion, the non-partisan The Fiscal Policy Institute (FPI) provided some strong statistics that showed that immigrants truly anchor America’s main street economy. While immigrants account for 13% of the population nationally, they account for an astonishing 28% of main street business ownership: restaurants, grocery stores, retail shops and neighborhood service businesses like dry cleaners, salons and the like… in other words, the very anchors of our Adirondack small town life.

This is a remarkable number, but the fact it illuminates is no surprise to me, even here in the Park. My favorite restaurant here is owned by an immigrant, my favorite motel is owned by an immigrant and numerous other businesses I patronize are owned by immigrants. Many immigrants are by the very nature of their undertaking adventurous, ambitious and risk-taking. Committed to a better life, they make excellent, hard-working entrepreneurs. We need their energy and ideas.

The workshop discussed strategies to encourage immigrant entrepreneurship, including establishing a welcoming climate, providing culturally competent business training and services, ensuring programs are open to all, providing better services to under-served populations, performing outreach to chambers of commerce and other economic interest groups, improving and streamlining licensing and inspections, and providing more community education. These are all things we should do in the Adirondacks anyhow, for park residents and immigrants alike.

The bottom line is that we should not allow the current political climate to obscure the benefits to be had if we make the Adirondacks more welcoming to immigrants. It is an investment in their dreams that will be returned in spades.


Pete Nelson

Pete Nelson is a teacher, writer, essayist and activist whose work has appeared in a variety of Adirondack publications, and regularly in the Adirondack Almanack since 2005. Pete is also a founder and current Coordinator of the Adirondack Diversity Advisory Council, which is working to make the Park more welcoming and inclusive.

When not writing or teaching mathematics at North Country Community College, Pete can be found in the back country, making music or even walking on stilts, which he and his wife Amy have done professionally throughout the United States for nearly two decades.

Pete is a proud resident of Keene, and along with Amy and his dog Henderson owns Lost Brook Tract, a forty-acre inholding deep in the High Peaks Wilderness.




39 Responses

  1. Outlier says:

    Businesses such as “restaurants, grocery stores, retail shops and neighborhood service businesses like dry cleaners, salons and the like…” can only succeed when they follow an existing thriving business climate. Otherwise, the economy is based on taking in each other’s laundry and preparing each other’s meals.

    Just an hour to the west, an ALCOA smelter was only kept open because of state subsidies that amounted to $30,000 dollars a year per job saved. And 600 jobs at a nuclear power station because there is a surplus of power created in large part from the closure of businesses and loss of population.

    • Marco says:

      Fitz is an older style plant. It needed to be shut down for more than what they advertise. Mostly, for simple safety reasons. Yes, it will destroy the economy in that area. But, power can be produced most anywhere within 500-1000 miles. Better to shut it down now, before an incident, than to have something happen. Much of the power we use is from Canada. It is much cheaper to produce it there than rebuild an old plant.

  2. Tim-Brunswick says:

    “Anti-Immigration Sentiment”…….”Prejudiced”……….YOU BET!

    Perhaps some of us have forgotten that some years ago on September 11th nearly 5000 residents and or visitors to this Country were killed during a terrorist attack engineered and orchestrated by a particular ethnic/religious group?

    Friends, Relatives, Parents, Children and Safety Rescue people are no longer here to enjoy this coming Christmas because of this horrific act by a particular Ethnic/Religious group of terrorists. Those left behind undoubtedly think of their lost loved ones every day and in particular at this time of year.

    Your damn right there’s an anti-immigration sentiment in this Country and as far as I’m concerned we’re entitled to feel that way. It will be a long time coming before that memory fades.

    Sure some immigration is good for this Country/Adks., but expecting or hoping that folks will open their arms to expanded immigration to all peoples………..that’s asking too much.

    Merry Christmas!

    • Boreas says:

      Every country, ethnic group, and religion has it’s share of extremists. One need only look at the Crusades, Naziism, Fascism, Stalinism, and America’s own Manifest Destiny, which nearly annihilated native Americans, to see that general condemnation of countries and ethnic groups for the sins of their extremists is not conducive to a peaceful world. Instead, this environment of hatred breeds more violent and determined extremists. One cannot change their views by hating them.

      Unfortunately, the human race has a limited skill set for dealing with people with differing morals and ideologies – namely marginalization, demonization, hatred, and extermination. But I believe ‘society’ has an obligation to rise above these baser instincts and use common sense. Terrorism by combatants without uniforms is virtually impossible to stop. Condemnation and marginalization of the ethnic groups and religions they purportedly belong to is counter-productive.

      Should an ‘enlightened’ society have an obligation to offer succor to helpless refugees even if there may be demons in their midst? Americans have always struggled with immigration and refugees, despite America’s open-arms policy. Hopefully discourse such as this will enable us to have the courage to make an acceptable moral decision. Unfortunately it is unlikely to be an unanimous decision…

      • Paul says:

        The only time the US had somewhat of an “open arms” policy on immigration was when we needed laborers. And even then an immigrant could be turned away for any reason (including if he or she didn’t look “right” to the person tending the line). The saying on the statue of liberty is just that a saying.

        • AG says:

          Exactly… The Statute of Liberty was always just words. When Mexican and Chinese labor was needed to build the west – they were grudgingly allowed in. The Chinese were not even allowed to bring their family – and couldn’t even become citizens until the 1950’s. The Mexicans were simply kicked out. There is a strange “utopia” view of the history of this nation.
          Even in the northeast – the Irish were frowned upon – but their labor was needed. Same with the Italians that came after and competed with them. The new “whipping boys” then became the blacks and hispanics. All this “open arms” talk is just folly.

          • Boreas says:

            Perhaps I should have used the term ‘ideology’ instead of ‘policy’. But the point I was trying to make was that Americans were rarely keen on immigration, despite the changing policies of the government regarding cheap labor.

            • kilowatt says:

              Whether we like it or not:

              This current refugee situation has more to do with protecting our country than with immigration policy. Just 19 “legal (I believe) visitors” to the USA on 911, killed 2,996 people and injured more than 6,000 innocent Americans and others.

              Therefore,

              I believe that “Refugees” especially of middle east origin must be thoroughly “vetted” before allowing them to apply for immigrant status in the USA.

              I believe that, should any incident occur that resulted from a positive vetting of an “applicant”, the person(s) approving that application should be thoroughly reviewed/vetted and steps taken to invoke appropriate penalties.

              I believe that before we accept one more immigrant into our country we should fix problems within our inner city community. Family values, education, unemployment, and crime.

              I believe that the words on the Statue of Liberty were addressed to the European immigration.

              I believe in “Legal” immigration. I.e., for the same reasons I am subject to the law for entering the US after a trip to Canada, Mexico and other countries, non citizens should be also and that border security must enforce this.

              I believe that most countries share in this belief and enforce their immigration laws.

              I believe that some US citizen illegal immigrants in other countries have been imprisoned and/or executed for there “crime”.

              My belief is that in a “peaceful world”, if you enter this country legally, are properly “vetted” and abide by our immigration laws, you are most welcome!

  3. smitty says:

    One thing that troubles me about easing restrictions on immigration is that it seems to me that America already has too many people. Not so much in the Adirondacks, but have you ever gone to a major metropolitan area and wondered how we can deal with so many people? Many of our problems, including carbon emissions by the way, are directly proportional to population. I suspect the root of much of the troubles in the mid east and other countries with high birth rates is when population outstrips resources. Jobs for young males are unavailable and they are easily seduced by radicalism. So by opening our borders to take in as many people as we can, are we eventually transferring the overpopulation problem to ourselves?

    • Boreas says:

      smitty,

      I think we need to distinguish between our immigration policies and our obligations, if any, to offer relief to war refugees. The Syrians seeking relief are not necessarily looking to emigrate to the US or anywhere else. They are just trying to keep from being killed in Syria. Just because they may be temporarily offered asylum in a country doesn’t men they will never want to return to their homeland. I suspect many will want to return if/when Syria becomes safe again.

      • Boreas says:

        smitty,

        Please excuse me – I had Syrian refugees and not immigration on my mind when I wrote the above reply. I didn’t mean to go off-topic. Ignore my raving.

        • smitty says:

          You’re excused. Your comment was right on. I was speaking more to immigration in general rather than the Syrian refuge problem. I just wish that the overpopulation problem was more a part of the conversation.

  4. Bruce says:

    I’m certainly not against immigration. Some of my forebears were among New York’s earliest settlers, the Dutch who made major contributions towards opening up the Adirondack region.

    The difference between then and today is there was land available for most, and many made the land pay off, supporting not only themselves but also creating and sustaining a vibrant economy. Today, with our sagging economy and an overburdened social system, it is important that all new immigrants not only be carefully vetted and come in legally, but be made to understand things may be tough.

    Many Cuban refugees were professionals and business people who had the skills to help make things work out for their less fortunate brethren. I haven’t heard anything about the demographic makeup of the Syrian refugees.

    • Bruce says:

      There is one good thing…with English being taught and spoken in most countries as a second language, communication will be less of an issue.

    • AG says:

      Your forebears may have been among “New York’s earliest settlers”… But there were already many nations of people living in what we call NY and North America long before Europeans got on ships and came over.

    • Ethan Friedman says:

      First, there is land available for most today — there is more rural space today than at any time since white settlement. If Americans are leaving the country for the cities, maybe some immigrants will want to live in the country.

      Second, to say that people who are leaving their culture, their families, their friends, behind to journey across the ocean to a country where (probably) the main spoken language is at best their second language, that they need to “be made to understand things may be tough” is awesomely condescending.

      We’re the ones who have it easy. THEY know what tough is in a way that you or I never will — but your Dutch forebears might have. Tough is working as a janitor with your post-graduate degree from back home because it’s the only way to make a better life for your children. Tough is having everyone you interact with all day assume you’re simpleminded because your English isn’t perfect. That’s tough, buddy.

  5. MIke Buznick says:

    Let’s keep in mind that we welcome the LEGAL IMMIGRANTS to the Adks…..I would protest tirelessly if any ILLEGAL immigrants were to be settled/relocated to the Adks……..call me what you will…I realize we are a nation of immigrants…but our ancestors came to this country LEGALLY with the dream of assimilating and becoming US citizens when the time came. Our ancestors supported themselves and got NO freebies or welfare or WIC or government programs in their native languages…they spoke ENGLISH and they stayed out of trouble. Yes for LEGAL immigrants and NO to illegal immigrants who should and must be deported.

  6. Boreas says:

    Should our immigration policies should be revised regularly to meet the current needs of the US workforce – to bolster labor, healthcare, or high-tech deficiencies? But then, shouldn’t we simply do a better job of providing education, training, and mobility to US citizens to fill these deficiencies? Tough questions…

  7. Mike Madore says:

    Interesting article but out of touch with reality…again.
    One of the reasons for the declines is the lack of jobs that pay enough to “live”, not merely survive as a peasant. Unless that is what you are hoping for…
    Another is the high cost of housing…in anything other than a dumpster…
    Weather is also a concern…not a lot of people prefer and enjoy the weather of the North Country.
    Taxation is insane…highest taxes in the country with the least to show for them to the average worker…not someone making six figures but the average person making under 40k.

    Based on what I see and read the ADK is already overwhelmed by “emigrants”. I watch housing prices rather closely as my wife and I have been looking for a small retirement home in the ADK’s. We love the cold and snow as we love snow shoeing. But the costs are ridiculous…House costs are so high only the rich from down state, etc. are buying. They raise the prices all around, are only part time residents, generally want to change the laws so they can live like they do in their “home” areas.

    So as bad as it is in the ADK’s now you want to add a population that has no idea what it is like to live in such an area, have no jobs, etc. How and where will they live? Will the state have to build housing for them all at the tax payers expense? Will they be on the welfare system as they have no jobs, not that there are any good paying jobs in the area any way, and no job potential? Or are you looking for a wave of “servitors” to be brought is as was done in the “good old days” to support all the rich and rude that are buying up properties like no tomorrow but have no one to mow their lawns, rake their leaves, clean their boats, etc.?

    I have no problem with allowing “legal” immigrants into this country. I’m of immigrant stock, France, Scotland and Portugal with 1/4 Native American added to spice up my life. Unless you are full Native American we are all immigrants but most came in legally and assimilated…don’t see much of that today in far too many that are assaulting our shores.

    Want a larger and younger population in the area? Lower taxes, create “real” jobs, not cleaning the rooms for minimum wage in a hotel/resort unless you want a “servant class”, Contain housing costs…no idea on how as I don’t blame someone that can sell their “shack” for a quarter million when in some podunk village outside the ADK’s zone it would be worth 20k.

  8. Bill Waterhouse says:

    Glad to see the ADK represented at an Upstate immigration and economic development gathering. Your article made me smile, as I have learned to seek out immigrants for certain skills: the best tailors have Italian or Eastern European accents, the best bakers are mostly first generation, and I wouldn’t think twice of patronizing a restaurant of any ethnicity, especially if those from that ethnic group were regular customers. When the first Syrian restaurant opens in the ADK, we can share a meal together and listen to the owner’s story of struggle and optimism. Not sure what will be on the menu, but I can surmise good coffee and tasty kabobs.

  9. Marco says:

    Good article and well said, Pete!

  10. Pete Klein says:

    I think we are lumping things together.
    We have always had and continue to have legal and illegal immigrants.
    No doubt, some of the refuges from wars in the Middle East and Africa will qualify as legal immigrants.
    But there is little chance any will end up in the Adirondacks. Also, there is little chance those of the Muslim religion will be welcomed with open arms anywhere USA.
    Fact of the matter is that Islam does not mix well with other religions and certainly does not mix at all with secularism.
    If you need any proof of this, see how well people who are not Muslim are treated in Islamic countries. The goal of Islam is to convert the people of the entire World to Islam. Not only that, even within Islamic countries, there is little tolerance between Shia and Sunni. Each regards the other as Muslim in name only.
    The only point they agree on is the idea of converting the balance of the world to Islam – or else.

    • AG says:

      You know it’s funny that I keep hearing that. I have lived in the same building with – played sports in the park with/against – gone to school – and worked with Muslims here in NY. Never once did any ever try to convert me or threaten me with violence. It’s also strange considering that they make up 1/5 of the world population that if they all wanted to war – WW3 wouldn’t have happened a very long time ago. There is a difference between “a Muslim” and “an extremist”.

    • Ethan Friedman says:

      “there is little chance those of the Muslim religion will be welcomed with open arms anywhere USA”

      I live in New York City. Where, you know, a little something happened on 9/11.

      Muslims are welcomed here. They are part of our neighborhoods, their kids go to schools with ours, they work with us. I wouldn’t have it any other way. The Muslims I know want their kids to go to college, they want a good life for their family, they could care less that the “balance of the world” isn’t Islamic.

      And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

  11. Bob Meyer says:

    Pete, a big thumbs up to this post!

    i just want to respond to the post from Tim-Brunswick and others that is was exactly this kind of xenophobic attitude that was used by anti-Semites and others in the US and other nations during the rise of Nazism (if we allow mass immigration of Jewish refugees radical and communist elements will come in) that prevented the rescue of probably 2,000,000 men women and children, almost all of whom were murdered!

  12. Boreas says:

    Perhaps I am responsible for this thread taking an ugly tangent. The original article was in regard to immigration in general to the ADK region, not the Syrian refugee crisis which is an entirely different matter. Maybe we should limit our responses to the scope of the article.

    • Bob Meyer says:

      Boreas et al, it’s all related. openness to the true greatness of this nation of [almost all] immigrant and immigrant roots vs. the xenophobic opposite… and it does filter down to our beloved Adirondacks.
      all of us who truly care about the economic condition of the Adirondacks are saddened by what we see and experience in most of the towns and want to see improvement.
      For example: Pottersville, the place nearest my camp, cannot keep businesses such as the model R.R. museum or the General Store/Antique Store or The Wells House afloat let alone establish new businesses. New families bringing new energy and resources would really help revitalize all the Pottersvilles in the park. Immigrants have always been a big part of revitalization and renewal throughout our nation’s history.
      let’s also be honest and admit that a lot of the negative feedback here is fear of “the other.” If fear dictates our actions then the bad guys [read terrorists etc] are winning.
      there is no easy fix to the aging demographic of the Park, but Pete’s ideas, if implemented, can be one part of the solution.

  13. Dave Gibson says:

    Thanks for shining a light out there, Pete. I’ll join you under it.

  14. Paul says:

    The current political/media kerfuffle is in regard to people seeking political asylum here in the US (actually a very insignificant number of people for a country the size of ours). The rules for these people is much different than it is for immigrants. As always happens these days this has gotten blown way out of proportion.

  15. Charlie S says:

    Tim-Brunswick says:“Anti-Immigration Sentiment”…….”Prejudiced”……….YOU BET!”
    “Perhaps some of us have forgotten that some years ago on September 11th nearly 5000 residents and or visitors to this Country were killed during a terrorist attack engineered and orchestrated by a particular ethnic/religious group?”

    >> How can we forget that horrible event Tim? And what did we do after 9-11? We went and attacked a country that had nothing to do with it,dropped thousands of tons of bombs on an innocent population….killed and maimed thousands of them outright,never mind all of the death and suffering afterwards and continuing on to this very day.

    This was done by a particular ethnic/religious group,namely white American Christians.When others commit such acts we call it terrorism. When us so-called Christians do it we call it collateral damage.That country has never been the same,is worse than it ever was,and that whole area has been breaking up since and look at all of the terrorism in this world from that area since!!!!!!!!!!!!! Nobody is,or seems to want to be,talking about this whatsoever….as if we forget or refuse to accept.When we draw up lists of groups considered terrorist organizations in the world the United States of America should very much be included on this list. Why do you think they hate us so much Tim?

    Those Syrian refugees and other refugees seeking safe havens in other parts of the world….I bet 99% of them are just plain kind folk who want nothing more than to keep their families safe and to live in peace. I’d also bet that the same people who don’t want them here in this country are the same ones that are all for these wars that created this mess in the first place.

    Racism is nothing to be proud about Tim.Matter of fact if we were to eliminate racism and ignorance from the face of this earth we’d have most probably three-quarters less of the problems we’re facing today.

  16. Charlie S says:

    Smitty says “Many of our problems, including carbon emissions by the way, are directly proportional to population.”

    >>An under or wrongly-educated population yes.

  17. Charlie S says:

    Boreas says “Perhaps I am responsible for this thread taking an ugly tangent.”

    >> What’s so ugly about it Boreas. Should we deny reality to appease those who choose to live in a cave?

  18. Charlie S says:

    Pete Klein says “The goal of Islam is to convert the people of the entire World to Islam.”

    >> Is this not what the Christians try to do also Pete? We have no right condemning one religion or belief system when we do the same thing ourselves. That’s called hypocrisy.

  19. Charlie S says:

    “Many immigrants are by the very nature of their undertaking adventurous, ambitious and risk-taking. Committed to a better life, they make excellent, hard-working entrepreneurs. We need their energy and ideas.”

    >> Generally they’re also very respectful,have decent social standards,are kind,considerate & I’ll be darned if many of them don’t have attributes about them that stand out more than your average American Joe & Mary next door.

  20. Ethan Friedman says:

    Pete, thank you for a terrific piece. I’ll continue to support you and all those looking to make the Adirondacks a place where anyone can feel welcome.

    It’s one of the most extraordinary corners of our planet. The people who live there (I’m not one) are extraordinary also. Let’s encourage other extraordinary people to join them!

  21. kilowatt says:

    Whether we like it or not:

    This current refugee situation has more to do with protecting our country than with immigration policy. Just 19 “legal (I believe) visitors” to the USA on 911, killed 2,996 people and injured more than 6,000 innocent Americans and others.

    Therefore,

    I believe that “Refugees” especially of middle east origin must be thoroughly “vetted” before allowing them to apply for immigrant status in the USA.

    I believe that, should any incident occur that resulted from a positive vetting of an “applicant”, the person(s) approving that application should be thoroughly reviewed/vetted and steps taken to invoke appropriate penalties.

    I believe that before we accept one more immigrant into our country we should fix problems within our inner city community. Family values, education, unemployment, and crime.

    I believe that the words on the Statue of Liberty were addressed to the European immigration.

    I believe in “Legal” immigration. I.e., for the same reasons I am subject to the law for entering the US after a trip to Canada, Mexico and other countries, non citizens should be also and that border security must enforce this.

    I believe that most countries share in this belief and enforce their immigration laws.

    I believe that some US citizen illegal immigrants in other countries have been imprisoned and/or executed for there “crime”.

    My belief is that in a “peaceful world”, if you enter this country legally, are properly “vetted” and abide by our immigration laws, you are most welcome!

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