On the Resolution to Declare Kingston, New York, an Inclusive and Welcoming Community Reynolds J. Scott-Childress, Alderman, Third Ward January 10, 2017

Mr. President, Members of the Common Council, Esteemed Citizens of Kingston:

The resolution before us is vital because the very future of Kingston is at stake.  How we decide will affect the safety of our streets, the vibrancy of our economy, and the success of our community.  Many of you are worried that this resolution will be an invitation to the wrong types of people to come among us and cause mayhem.  You worry that your jobs will disappear, your homes will be invaded, and your cherished values of freedom and equality will be eroded.  Let me put your minds at rest.  This resolution will benefit our businesses.  It will secure our community.  It will nurture our highest principles.

Before explaining why, we should know who it is we are talking about when we talk about unauthorized immigrants.  The stereotype of the undocumented immigrant is the brown Latino face of an individual who has illicitly crossed the US-Mexico border.  But this stereotype is tragically mistaken.  There are more undocumented immigrants from other parts of the world far beyond Mexico and they have come into the US legally—at least initially.

For example, there are 50,000 undocumented Irish immigrants among us.  That is, one in every hundred Irish citizens—one in every hundred Irish citizens is in the US without authorization.

Walls won’t keep these unauthorized immigrants out.  The vast majority of undocumented immigrants from Asia, Europe, and other locales do not jump the fences between the US and Mexico.  They come here legally on a student, visitor, or work visa and then remain long after the visa has expired.  This is in fact the story of our soon-to-be first lady.  She began her sojourn as an American by flaunting US law and working for a period without a visa.  Milania Trump, in this sense, was an unauthorized immigrant.

Now, immigration to Kingston is good for business.  Here’s the good economic news.  Immigrants will not take away our jobs.  In fact, quite the opposite. Even conservative economists recognize the economic boon of immigrationMarco Rubio has argued, for example, that immigration reform would boost economic growth, reduce the federal deficit, and “create American jobs.”  Cities across the country understand that immigrants are good for business.  Even conservative cities such as Nashville Tennessee have been actively courting immigration of the foreign-born into their cities.  The reason is that immigrants are entrepreneurs: they start small businesses twice as often as native-born Nashville residents.  They are willing to do jobs that native-born Americans reject.  They are ready to work in vital local industries such as construction, health care, and hospitality services—not to mention farming and agricultural labor.  They are more willing to move from one place to another to find work.  Immigrants are good for local business and for the national economy.  This is true whether the immigrants are authorized or not.  The two states that have attempted to root out undocumented immigrants—Arizona and Alabama—have experienced economic losses in the billions of dollars.  We are not inviting unauthorized immigrants to settle in Kingston, merely recognizing that they are here and that they have a significant economic impact.

Unauthorized immigrants who work in the US must pay income taxes.  They pay into social security.  They pay into unemployment insurance.  And this money rarely comes back to them, it goes to the rest of us.  Unauthorized immigrants cannot legally access these taxes they pay.  Moreover, they must fulfill other duties: unauthorized immigrant males, for example, are required, as are all other Americans, to register for the draft when they turn 18.

On this issue I stand with Ronald Reagan, who not only advocated for, but signed an amnesty law for millions of undocumented immigrants.  It was Reagan, the great beacon of modern conservatism who said, “They brought with them courage, ambition and the values of family, neighborhood, work, peace and freedom.”

The resolution before us will make all our immigrant neighbors excited to contribute to our local economy.  To stand against it is to stand against economic improvement.  I cannot for the life of me understand why those against this resolution would not support improving our local economy.

Immigration to Kingston is good for law and order.  First, we should be clear about the legal status of undocumented immigrants. According to the federal government, undocumented immigrants are not criminals due to their status.  There are two issues of law here.  Those who have illegally entered the US are guilty of a misdemeanor.  This is akin to possession of cannabis, public intoxication, disorderly conduct, reckless driving.  The fine is similar to a speeding ticket and perhaps a few months of jail time.  But this misdemeanor is very difficult to prove.  So most undocumented immigrants are charged with a violation of the US civil code: “unauthorized presence.”  Unauthorized presence is not a violation of the US criminal code.  It is not a criminal act.  This is why Melania Trump was not dragged off to prison for violating US work rules.  Not only is unauthorized presence not a criminal act, there is an entire class of unauthorized immigrants whom Americans have traditionally welcomed with open arms: those who escape political oppression in their homelands and enter the US without proper documents.  We gladly took in 125,000 such immigrants in the 1980 Mariel boat lift from Cuba.  So, the vast majority of unauthorized immigrants are not criminals just because they are here without proper papers.

Certainly some unauthorized immigrants engage in criminal behavior.  But this is exceedingly unusual.  Immigrants rarely commit criminal acts of any sort.  Immigrants in general commit fewer crimes than the native-born.  Incarceration rates among young men are lowest for immigrants, especially among the undocumented population. The reason is simple: these immigrants have come here to work and getting arrested gets in the way of earning a living.  Moreover, higher rates of immigration, whether authorized or not, are associated with lower rates of both property and violent crime.  On top of this, in communities where police have engaged in immigration enforcement activities, cooperation of community members with the police dries up, thereby heightening the potential for crime.

The resolution before us is hardly an invitation to unauthorized immigrants to come to Kingston to break our laws and take advantage of our good will.  Of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the US, virtually none of them are here in Ulster County.  Most of the undocumented workers in Ulster County are migrants passing through with the harvest out in the rural areas west of Kingston.  A 2010 estimate figured that of the roughly 2000 farmworkers who pass through the county, about 75 percent are undocumented.  But these numbers hardly matter.  These immigrants pass through the county and do not set down roots in Kingston City.

The real point of the resolution is to assure all those who immigrate to Kingston that they will be free to establish their businesses, to work side by side with us, to send their children to school without fearing for their safety, to share in the benefits they help produce.  Immigrants are vital partners in the development of peaceful streets.  I cannot for the life of me understand why those against this resolution would not want to support the improvement of law and order.

Those of you who are concerned the resolution will lead to a diminished local economy and a higher crime level, I ask you: What possible motivation would Mayor Noble, Police Chief Tinti, and the many neighbors who have urged passage of this resolution, what possible motive would they have to wreck the economy and increase crime?  Why in the world would any responsible public official or local citizen want to decrease our quality of life?  We have listened to those of you who have spoken out against the resolution.  We ask you to listen to the evidence to realize that the aim of the resolution is to better our community, to enliven the economy, to protect our citizens to fullest extent possible.

Some have asked: If this resolution is merely symbolic, why bother to pass it?  It was a symbolic act when, in a moment of immigration crisis, we erected the Statue of Liberty with its inviting slogan, “Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breath free.”  It was a symbolic act when, during a moment of economic crisis, Franklin Roosevelt, said “All we have to fear is fear itself.”  It was a symbolic act when, during a moment of racial crisis, Martin Luther King stood at the Lincoln Memorial and dreamed of a day when we would all be judged solely by the content of our character.  Symbolic acts articulate our most deeply held values.

At a moment like this we must choose a side.  Which side are we on—the tyranny of inhumane federal policies or the freedom of the individual?  Which side are we on—the selfish cynicism of insularity or the warm welcome of community?  Which side are we on—the petty vindictiveness of the few or economic opportunity for all?  I side with the freedom of a welcome and inclusive community where we foster economic opportunity for every one of us.  For this reason, I will vote in favor of the resolution.