Diversity For Growth by Richard T. Herman, Immigration Lawyer and Author was recorded Tuesday, June 9, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. [00:36:56]
Hi, I’m Richard Herman, I’m an immigration lawyer based in Cleveland and some people refer to me as an evangelist for welcoming immigrants to cities across America as a way to grow the population, attract entrepreneurs, and ultimately create jobs for Americans to make our cities more vibrant. I started this crusade as a Clevelander where I was born and raised.
Immigration As An Economic Driver Of Population Growth, Entrepreneur Attraction and American Job Creation
So when I started my law practice in downtown helping immigrants I started to see a connection between my work with immigrants as an immigration lawyer and the potential future of the city to embrace immigration as an economic development driver.
"We want to help raise awareness in America that immigrants are not job takers, immigrants are job creators.” ~ Wiley Publishing.
So, a city like Cleveland or Pittsburgh or Detroit looking for new answers to reposition and pivot to a new economy, why aren’t we looking to immigrants as a resource? We started looking at a study in Cleveland and we learned that less than 5% is foreign born. That was a bad sign because the national average is about 13% in the country and the cities that are really popping economically, are 20%-25% foreign born.
I testified at City Council in Cleveland a couple of years ago and not that they had any real interest in the issue at that time, but I said, “Listen I really want to see what we’re talking about. Forget the white papers and the research, I’m not sure they mean anything anyway, let’s get on a bus and I’ll drive the bus and we’ll go to Toronto, five hours to the north and we’ll see what happens when a Great Lakes, cold, grey city embraces immigration and see what happens.” Our fears of this city being destroyed and people losing jobs and housing values dropping are just that: they’re fears they are not founded in fact. What we’ll see in Toronto is a city that is a global city, it’s morphed into a global city. 50% of the population is foreign born, they are just popping and they have a housing problem too - they’re housing problem is the housing values keep going up!
So, when I look at Cleveland and I see all these abandoned properties and they want to demolish or mothball these homes, I don’t hear people saying, “Well, why don’t we attract the immigrants and welcome immigrants as part of the equation?” That’s really why we wrote this book, to try to change the perception that immigrants offer incredible value to our community and we should be figuring out ways to make them more a part of our community, part of our Cleveland family and the conversation I have heard in so many rooms in Cleveland, in Board rooms and political offices and foundation offices is just the exact opposite of what other cities are doing and so that’s why we wanted to start that conversation.
A Holistic Perspective Unlocks The Joy Of Diversity
I think what really drives me is the joy of being around people who are different from me. I really love that. I love being a “stranger in a strange land” and the word “grok” you know, comes to mind if you guys remember the Robert Heinlein book, the science fiction book. But it’s cool, it’s fun to get outside your comfort zone, experience new foods, new cultures, new ways of praying. As a matter of fact, in our house, my wife and I, we bought a home a few years ago that was owned by an Indian Hindu family. And there’s a temple in our house, a Hindu temple with a six foot high, six foot long carved stone temple. It’s funny because I’m raised Catholic and she was raised in a Buddhist family in Taipei but went to a Catholic school in Taipei, so this is really about connecting all these different backgrounds and leveraging that to make us stronger, not weaker. So, I enjoy going to different restaurants, whether it’s an Ethiopian restaurant in Cleveland right down the street on St. Clair Avenue or the Arab restaurant on West 25th Street or whatever, you can travel the world right in your own city or get on a plane and for $500 bucks travel halfway around the planet. So, to me, that is really the opportunity. That the world is open, and you can access resources, and people and talent from around the world, so why not do that?
I think that one of the challenges in this globalization conversation is, what about people left behind? And the feeling is there are people who don’t have access to that. By definition, they would be left further behind if you pursue this and I think that is a misguided notion and actually we can all go together.
One of the things we talk about is, can we connect some foreign investment into urban areas in Cleveland? I belong to the Chinese Merchants Association and we’re seeing money flowing from China into certain parts, certain streets in Cleveland for rehab and development. Why not connect them to the African American business community leaders here in Cleveland? Why don’t we go to China and invite our African American friends to go with us? Let’s do this together. It doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game and I think that’s too much the conversation.
When we talk about diversity we usually talk about it in Cleveland as a white or black issue. And the rest of the world is not talking that way or the rest of the county. It’s a broad spectrum of race, nationality, gender, sexual orientation and everybody deserves a seat at the table.
So, that’s what drives me, I think unlocking the power of diversity both for personal joy and also for economic growth because everybody has something special to offer, everybody, no matter what their background and the key is taking joy in that and connecting those resources.
"Unlocking the power of diversity both for personal joy and also for economic growth because everybody has something special to offer, everybody, no matter what their background and the key is taking joy in that and connecting those resources."
Immigrant And Minority Communities Are Reservoirs Of Entrepreneurship
I think what I’d like people to do, is to reach out, in Cleveland, I’m talking about Cleveland, which I think is a very siloed community, as living in the former Soviet Union, this reminds me of a Soviet style city in many ways. The power structure is siloed, it’s a control down economy with a few players whether it’s the Chamber of Commerce or foundations or City Hall or political leaders, there doesn’t seem to be a free flow of information, a free flow of ideas in many ways and there’s even efforts to stop free flows of ideas, so I think what we really need is for people to get out of their comfort zones. I love to see people connect across cross cultural and racial lines in a much more significant way. Why can’t we have an incubator in Cleveland that connects African American businesses with immigrant businesses?
“We know the data shows immigrants are entrepreneurial and twice as likely to start a business than Americans, but we also know that African Americans were the most prolific entrepreneurial group in America in the early part of the twentieth century and this was because of exclusion.” ~ Johnson Lee Butler.
So what Dr. Butler recommends is we connect to that entrepreneurial spirit - and that’s another thing I hope more of us do - is look at immigrants and minority communities as reservoirs of entrepreneurship. Untapped, unleveraged entrepreneurship. And that we should all be benefitting from that and we should all be connecting to that, re-animating that inner entrepreneur, that inner immigrant, it’s in our DNA.
Demographics And Resonance Leverage The Power Of Global Connectivity
The future, I think, is already here. One of the writers I love to read is Drucker, Peter Drucker who was an immigrant to the United States, passed away, from Austria and obviously he’s one of the key management gurus of all time and he was also a demographer. He said one of the most powerful forces in America, in the world, in terms of business and social change is demographics. He said it’s also the least understood and often the most ignored by policy makers and even business leaders.
Changes in demography are thought to happen slowly and very incrementally. In reality, they happen very quickly. By the time you notice it the changes have already happened and you may not be able to adapt quickly enough. So, looking at the very micro level you can see what’s happening and in America, we’re undergoing radical transformation. 13% of our population is foreign born. Actually, Asians now are faster growing than Latinos. The largest source of Latino growth is not immigration, it’s birth. If you look at the percentage of inter-racial marriages over the past twenty to thirty years, it went from one out of twenty seven to one out of sixteen and now it’s one out of seven.
So when people say to President Obama, you’ve got to put a moat around the country to keep all this diversity from coming in - diversity is happening in our homes. Are you going to put a moat around the bedroom? This is happening and so let’s celebrate it. I love watching television commercials, love watching the NBA game, go Cavs! you’d already won the championship by the time you watch this - but, watching commercials now, I’m seeing biracial families featured in the commercial. I have a thirteen year old and a twelve year old and when my daughter was four or five she asked me, “Am I Chinese or am I White? I said, “You’re both. You’re everything.” This is really this identification with the world and with multiculturalism in a very empowering experience, not alienating, this is the future.
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So, that’s what I hope. I hope that cities like Cleveland we don’t think about crossing the river from the east side over the Cuyahoga to the west side as being “the trip”. The trip really is now thinking and traveling and doing across time zones. Getting on planes and getting on the Internet and making connections around the world and pulling all these resources and knowledge together and saying, “I can make something special.”
Shift Your Mindset From Threat To Valued Asset
By day and by night, I’m an immigration lawyer. I’m an immigrants rights lawyer and we have a law firm and we speak over twelve languages and we help immigrants and companies that hire immigrants with various legal issues. I’m an advocate for immigrant rights so I see my work in writing about the economic benefits of welcoming immigrants as an outgrowth of my role as an advocate for immigrants.
My daughter, Isabella was about four or five and she heard her Mom and me talking about immigrates a lot in the house, so one day she tugged at my sleeve and said, “Daddy, what is an immigrant?” And so I thought, how do I explain this? And so I thought how would I explain this to Lou Dobbs? That’s probably the same demographic I would be speaking to - age wise. I said, “Well, honey, immigrants are heros. They sacrifice everything for their children and it’s all about the future and it’s all about believing in an ideal and working really, really, really hard to make it happen no matter what the cost.” And she’s like, “Wow, Daddy, when I grow up I want to be an immigrant too!” I chuckled and I said, “Well, you probably will Isabella, you’ll probably immigrate to China or India.”
The reality is, this is the new frontier: on diversity and economic development and we’re just beginning to come to grasp with globalization. With cities like Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Detroit - and I think Pittsburgh is in a better position, but I think the question is, “Do we have to be punching bags for globalization?” Can we actually turn it around and harness those connections for growth and economic opportunity?
China is looked at as the taker of American jobs. We should be flipping that and saying, “How can we attract Chinese investment to create manufacturing jobs in America?”
We already have an analogy for that, a precedent, in Japan. When Japan started investing heavily in the United States in the 1970’s, the fear was Japan will own us, Japan will take our jobs, will destroy America.
Japan created manufacturing in the United States and they started auto manufacturing and major installations around the country creating great, well paying jobs. That could happen with China. I think it’s going to happen because I think China is starting to look at the United States, particularly the rust belt, and saying, “We can invest here, we can do some manufacturing here.” A case in point is in Dayton, a Chinese company spent $200 million and bought an abandoned GM factory and they’ve already put one hundred people to work and they’re hoping to put up to one thousand people to work in an automotive glass factory.
So, if you want to attract these resources as a community, you have to know how they think, what they’re looking for, what their thousands of years of culture mean, the dance of business conversation and developing relationships. I don’t see that happening overnight.
One of my clients in Cleveland bought a large warehouse and he’s from China and he went to some folks and said, “What do you have in Chinese that I can market Cleveland in China with?” and they said, “Nothing.” And there didn’t seem to even be an interest to even translate and that was few years ago and I think now it’s getting better but my client ended up getting the video of Cleveland, of the sexy footage of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Lake Erie and the Cleveland Clinic and sending it to Hong Kong and then hiring a journalist to superimpose against the video and talk about the attributes of Cleveland. So, I think that’s what we’re going to see happening more and more is, you know, working on that side of the isle.
How Do We Build A Globally Inclusive Community For The Benefit Of All?
So where do I spend my time? I spend my time largely with my law practice, we’re an immigration law firm in Cleveland, Columbus and Detroit and with my family. I’m with my family all the time, I’ve got young kids at home so we’re always doing something and traveling a lot, my son’s a competitive swimmer so we travel around the country doing that so we’ll be in Baltimore this weekend. So, that takes up a lot of my time and I represent immigrants on immigration issues, civil rights issues, I represent companies that hire immigrants, people from the Cleveland Clinic that are doing medical research, NFL football players, tech workers, undocumented workers in the fields, we do all of that.
I think one of my passions, which I see as an outgrowth of my role as a lawyer and advocate for the immigrant community, is trying to initiate this conversation that immigrants add value and that immigration be part of our economic strategies and inclusion strategies in cities across America particularly cities that are struggling and depopulating like Cleveland. Cleveland continues to depopulate despite a resurgence in the downtown dwellers and the young people moving in apartments downtown. The new census data shows from 2010 to 2014, Cleveland continues to depopulate and it’s not just Cleveland, it’s Cuyahoga County, one of the leading number two counties in the country on depopulation. So, we were a city of 950,000 people once in it’s heyday and now we’re down to 380,000 to 200,000 thousand people. How do you sustain all this infrastructure and all this when you have dwindling population? And dwindling real estate taxes and all this stuff? So, that kind of consumes me, so how do I change the mindset that immigrants can be part of the solution, they’re not the problem in a city that’s only 5% foreign born? Or, Detroit, 6% or 7% foreign born?
"We’ve got to talk about tangible ways using immigration law that we have right now, to leverage and unlock this opportunity."
And I’ll give you an example. I was recently hired by Governing magazine to speak at a retreat of the top one hundred innovative leaders of local government around the country. They went off to an Omni Resort off on an island off the Florida coast and there were a lot of tech leaders there as well, Microsoft, Oracle, Intel and so we were talking about how can cities unlock the opportunities of immigration while the Federal government is sitting on their hands, not doing immigration law reform, we’ve got these major problems with immigrant tech talent leaving the United States because we’re educating them as international students and then we’re kicking them out to compete against us and start new companies abroad. What can we, as cities, do?
The answer I think is, first of all, acknowledging that this is a local issue, not just a Federal issue and that we have an opportunity now to do what we can at the local level to retain international talent, to attract international talent and to take care of those undocumented folks that are in our communities right now, sending their kids to our schools, they’re part of our families. So, we’ve got to have a local strategy for immigration. Two, we’ve got to understand immigration policy and immigration law to unlock the key.
So, I’ll give you an example and I wrote this in the Governing article. I talked about a real case that I had with an international student, she’s from Taiwan, she had a graduate degree in fashion design and she came into my office with these big eyes and a little bit of moisture, a little bit of dew there and she’s with her boyfriend and she says, “I’m graduating and I don’t want to go back to Taiwan, to go back home. My home is now the United States. I’ve lived here five years, this is my home, my boyfriend’s here, and so what do I do?” She knew she probably couldn’t get an H-1B Professional Worker Visa because we have a lottery and the lottery is exhausted the first week of the window opening. So she knew she probably couldn’t get a work visa so her options were limited. So, I said, “Have you ever thought about starting a business?” And she said, “No, I never really have.” So, I said, “We have a visa program for eighty nationalities, that if you invest a relatively small amount of money, you can start a small business whether it’s an Internet website company or restaurant or whatever, you could apply to stay here on that treaty investor visa called the E-2 Investor Visa.” So, I said, “Here’s the website for the government and they’ll explain it.” So she said, “Okay, I’ll talk to my parents about it.” So, she came back two weeks later and said, “We’re ready.” I said, “Ready? Do what? Are we going to do the restaurant, do this, do that?” Her parents were going to invest in her. They’d already been investing in her through her education here, this was a continuation of their investment. And I could see the resources the family had and they were tremendous. I said, “What a missed opportunity that communities around the country are missing.”
We have 900,000 international students in the country right now, it’s the highest in U.S. history. 30% are Chinese. And increasing numbers of them are coming from very wealthy families. These kids are the best and the brightest and many of them are entrepreneurial. Why aren’t we reaching out to them saying, “How can we help you stay and contribute to America?” Now, they’re already pumping in $26 billion dollars a year into our national economy through tuition and living expenses. The real payoff, as Silicon Valley found out over the decades, is, how do you help them stay, integrate, contribute their talent, and then some of them will eventually start companies? Half of the companies in Silicon Valley were founded by immigrants, many of them were international students who stayed and graduated and worked and what not. So, that, really, is one of the opportunities, is to try to help them educate. Now, what I found was, the universities don’t talk this language, they don’t understand this stuff, it’s not in their best interest, in their minds they’ve already made their money on the tuition. The city halls and the economic development groups, they don’t really understand this. And politically, it may actually be a disadvantage for them politically to push it, as we found in Cleveland.
Cleveland politicians find that a nativist strain of discussion in policy is actually politically beneficial in the short term for them. I mean, how else do you explain our Mayor in front of one thousand people in the State of City Address, when asked, “Why aren’t we welcoming immigrants like other cities?” his response was, “Because we take care of our own.” So, first of all, who are “our own”? And two, how do we take care of our people? We open up and welcome the world. That’s one of the ways, it’s not the only way. It’s not the panacea or silver bullet, but it’s part of it. A good example of what’s happening now, is Cleveland is an outlier city and we’re surrounded by cities that now with their City Halls and their philanthropy and their business communities are embracing immigration as an economic development driver. So, City Hall in Detroit, in Pittsburgh, in Columbus, in Cincinnati, in Dayton, in Buffalo, in Philly, in St. Louis. I mean, it’s embarrassing to see what’s happening in Cleveland because one person, the Mayor, decides this is not a popular conversation for him. I think partly, it’s just because of his age, he’s from the older generation, he just got his first passport not too long ago, a few years ago, so this is not his world. His world is, Cleveland is a black and white town, politics are divided by black and white and it’s totally in contradiction to what the rest of the world, the United States, is experiencing.
How do we help immigrant entrepreneurs? We know that they’re prolific entrepreneurs but they have barriers. Language, culture, how do we help them succeed? Overall, this is about a globalization strategy, it’s just not because we want to welcome immigrants because of their prolific output. It’s also because we want them to affect change in our community. We want to think and act globally. We want to learn from the immigrant community, we should want to learn, like I learned from my wife and how she approached education in a much different way than how my family approached education. So, there’s lots to learn from each other. So, that’s what I try to spend my time on is, changing the conversation about immigration from it’s us versus them, they take our jobs, we take care of our own, to, how do we build a globally inclusive community for the benefit of all?
Isolation Narrows Collective Survival
There’s often times a negative view about immigration and immigrants. I think a lot of it is emotional, psychological fear of “the other” and the unknown. This can manifest in ways such as bad policy and even in violent encounters. I’ll give you an example. It kind of starts as a funny story. My wife was out of town and I had my toddlers who were probably age two and four at the time. My wife didn’t know this, but I decided to take the kids out to a march in Painesville on Father’s Day with the Latino farm workers. I thought it would be important that non Latinos would be arm-in-arm with the Latino community. This is a not a Latino issue only. People think this is a Latino issue, they have no idea of what this issue is really about. 40% of the undocumented came here legally with inspection, with a visa and they overstayed. They’re Canadian, they’re Irish, they’re French, they’re the gamut of professions. I had a practicing brain surgeon who’s undocumented, they're doctors, lawyers, they’re engineers, they’re your next door neighbor. So, for the media to portray this as only a Latino issue does a disservice to the Latino community and to the whole issue at large.
So, as a result of that experience, there was a local newspaper story that was picked up by the O’Reilly Factor on Fox News. So the O’Reilly Show called me up and said, “Did you want to speak on TV, on the O’Reilly Factor, on immigration, immigrants and community building and all that?” So, I said, “Sure.” So, Michelle Malkin was the guest host that day and I knew what this was going to be all about, be her yelling, so I said, “Michelle, I don’t think you can distill all this into bumper sticker slogans, it’s really about families and building community and growing.” And she started yelling and screaming and all this and then the segment ended and then we’re off their air and she’s on my ear, I could hear her in my head phone saying, “Richard! That was fun! Let’s do it again!” It’s all theater folks, it’s all theater.
I get back to the office the next day and my phone lines are all lit up with messages and they were all messages like, “Richard, we saw you on FOX, all one hundred million of us saw you and the revolution is on.” “You’re a traitor to your race.” “You should die. You’re kids should die.” So, obviously my staff was not happy, my family was not happy. But this is a very small portion of the United States but I think there is varying degrees of xenophobia that plays itself out. I think that’s some of the fear that I have, is that diversity can be chaotic and we need to figure out a way to bring it together and leverage those connections. But, if we don’t know them and we don’t know us, we’ll never get anyway.
Another example of this kind of virulent response, I wrote an Op-Ed for the Plain Dealer a couple of years ago, “Will a Dying City Finally Embrace Immigrants?” And they put a big picture of an abandoned house on the front cover of the Forum section and the back cover of the Forum section was a chapter from Immigrant, Inc., a book I helped co-write. I criticized policy leaders in Cleveland, the Mayor, The Cleveland Foundation I may have referenced, and the Chamber of Commerce in not ushering in this conversation in Cleveland and actually sequestering this conversation as actually hurting Cleveland. And so, I get a call from one of the billionaires in town and he calls me up and says, “Richard, do you want to be Mayor of the city?” sarcastcially, knowing that I can barely run my little corner of the world. And I said, “No.” And he said, “Then, shut the “f***” up. Who do you think you are? You’re going to create a race war in this town. You’re done!” And he hung up the phone. To me, again, this is running away from the conversation of demographic changes, of globalization, of community building.
We’re one of the top five or six most segregated communities in the world, in the country. How are we going to solve that problem if we segregate ourselves constantly? We segregate the ideas and the communities. Let’s not run away from this conversation, let’s run towards it. So, that’s what I spend a lot of my time on and trying to raise awareness about this issue and using social media to pollinate these ideas and hopefully a few grains will catch on.
The Tide Of Global Evolution Is A Force Of Nature
I guess what gives me optimism, despite a lot of resistance in cities like Cleveland to this idea of welcoming immigrants as a growth opportunity for all of us, is that organically, things are happening anyway. So, people can put up roadblocks, and stop things or try to slow things down but they can’t stop the tide. The wave of the world connecting and gently colliding. So, I think that’s what gives me optimism, that we’re moving towards this more globally inclusive community no matter what folks will try to do and fear mongering and political gamesmanship.
I’d like to see less career politicians driving the ship and I’d like to see less foundations driving the ship and just more concerned citizens coming out and saying, “You know what? I think this is what I want my community to look like.” And, “I want to be part of the future. I want to harness this.”
So, to me, this is where the optimism is, I can already see it happening and Cleveland’s going to be just fine.
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