Welcome to Dayton?

A Dayton citizen volunteers in a tutoring program for immigrant children. A Dayton citizen volunteers in a tutoring program for immigrant children.

What the Welcome Dayton plan contains — and what it doesn’t

By Dayton Mayor Gary Leitzell

A Dayton citizen volunteers in a tutoring program for immigrant children.

A Dayton citizen volunteers in a tutoring program for immigrant children.

I recently watched the movie Gangs of New York and was struck by how the film’s message could not be more relevant to modern times — close-minded, paranoid views on immigration will ultimately result in disaster.

The Dayton City Commission recently voted to approve the Welcome Dayton plan, an initiative designed to attract groups of immigrants that can help the city grow jobs, businesses and population. News of the Welcome Dayton plan travelled all over the globe. One day after the plan was approved, I received an e-mail from a man in South Africa who worked in the aviation industry. He applauded Dayton for being so forward-thinking, and said he would be taking a very close look at what the Gem City had to offer for the dedicated foreign entrepreneur who wanted to experience the American Dream. National news services such as National Public Radio, USA Today, CNN and MSNBC picked up the story and most of the coverage was fair and positive. I had a great time talking to a host on NPR, discussing how history proves time and time again that cities that embrace all people and cultures thrive until one culture deems itself better. I pointed out how Cordoba in Spain flourished during the occupation by the Moors because the city’s leadership ignored religious differences among its citizens.

Local response to the Welcome Dayton plan was mostly positive, with close to a dozen citizens speaking in support of adopting the plan on the evening the commission unanimously voted its approval. The few dissenting voices were almost entirely from citizens outside of Dayton, mostly from Lake County. While the initial wave of publicity surrounding the Welcome Dayton plan has subsided, there are still some citizens out there who are confused or misinformed about what the Welcome Dayton plan says — and doesn’t say. Just this morning, my office received a phone call from a citizen asking when Dayton was going to become a “sanctuary city.” Yet, the plan contained nary a single reference to granting “sanctuary” to illegal immigrants.

Some extreme conservatives have expressed their displeasure to the plan because they have entirely set their focus on the issue of illegal Hispanic immigrants and not on the thousands of legal immigrants that are already located here from many different nations. They are failing to consider that many of the citizens who are helping lead Dayton’s economic turnaround are immigrants. During my almost two years in office, I’ve had the pleasure of befriending many members of Dayton’s growing Ahiska Turkish population. Most of these hard-working men and women are natives of former Soviet-occupied nations who came to America to escape political and religious persecution — the same reasons many of our ancestors came to this country. These Ahiska Turkish citizens have been almost singlehandedly responsible for injecting new life into the Old North Dayton neighborhood by rehabilitating long abandoned homes and turning them into handsome, livable properties.

My message to the naysayers is simple: Visit the City of Dayton’s website at www.daytonohio.gov and make sure you have fully read the Welcome Dayton plan before attacking it. This is not about harboring illegal immigrants, granting anyone “sanctuary” or any of the other ridiculous, paranoid theories floating around the blogosphere of the right wing fringe. This Welcome Dayton plan leaves federal immigration law enforcement to the feds, and instead focuses on making our community one that treats all people kindly, fairly and humanely. If you are an illegal immigrant, you will be subjected to the same Federal immigration laws as anyone else — simple as that. The Welcome Dayton plan is about creating something we all agree Dayton needs: jobs, jobs, jobs.  Our universities, hospitals and tech industries are recruiting to fill highly skilled positions. The Welcome Dayton plan was formulated to help Dayton become a global city by attracting the best and the brightest. This plan is designed to enhance the potential of Dayton as a competitor in the global economy by attracting immigrants who bring new ideas, new perspective and new talent to our workforce. In order to reverse the decades-long trend of economic decline in this city, we need to think globally and recruit the very best from around the world.

By attracting America’s legal immigrant entrepreneurs, we can strengthen Dayton’s economic recovery. To those new citizens who come to Dayton seeking their success and piece of the American Dream … welcome. And thank you for choosing Dayton, Ohio.

Reach Dayton Mayor Gary D. Leitzell at (937) 333-3653 or GaryLeitzell@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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