The following post was written by John DeStefano, Jr., Mayor of the City of New Haven, Conn., and Past NLC President. It originally appeared as a column in the New Haven Register on February 9, and has been reprinted with permission from Mayor DeStefano.
A western Ukrainian boxer speaking English with an Irish accent? By the way, he was trained by a Russian coach. That’s Igor and that is how the world is getting smaller and smaller.
Igor immigrated to Ireland for the same reason that so many come to my city of New Haven, Connecticut. The opportunity to work, to find something better for himself and his family. When coming he was challenged by the locals and confused for a Romanian until he learned the universal comeback to all bullies – “what’s it to you?”
What is it to you? Last week, I visited Dublin, invited to attend a Council of Europe meeting. Think America’s National League of Cities and you sort of get the idea. Somewhat more loosely knit. It’s Europe, you see.
But it’s not the old Europe. Being French doesn’t mean what it used to be. Half the people of Toulouse have at least one foreign-born parent. It’s the same in Germany, Poland, you get the idea. We look less like what we used to, and more like each other.
So people and cities across Europe are wrestling with change. Different languages, different colors, different habits. The best is when folks come up to me and say, “Oh, you’re American. Well you have been dealing with immigration forever. We’re just learning.” As though we have discovered the secret recipe.
The fact is that we in America are still learning, too. And the truth is that we are at a moment of great opportunity in America. A moment to embrace a stronger future by passage of comprehensive immigration reform by Washington.
The overwhelming sense I had in Dublin is one of an international competition for the most precious commodity for economic growth: human talent. Human talent to innovate, to create, to work hard and to persist. The aspirational talent of the world is looking for a place to contribute. To do more and to succeed. Much as I like Dublin, I would hope that this talent finds its way to America to strengthen, invigorate and grow our economy, instead of someone else’s.
The perfect case example for this can be found in my city’s own front yard at Yale University. At Yale, over 4,000 people from more than 110 countries are studying, teaching and conducting research. This migration of talent to New Haven does not diminish us, it makes us bigger. As research and talent grows, so do university payrolls as well as the payrolls of the companies that commercialize that research. And, in turn, the service companies that sell, that support and that piggyback off that core growth.
Too often diversity and immigration are seen as simple math, addition and subtraction. In other words, for me to have my bread, I have to take yours. Really it’s about multiplication. Multiplying talent in a stable and progressive society yields exponential results. Other cities around the world are just beginning to see what America has learned generation after generation. Let’s get immigration reform done. Dublin is nice. But America is where we live.