The ongoing debate over immigration in the United States shows no sign of stopping any time soon. Recently that debate has become even fiercer, with southern state governors bussing immigrants to northeastern sanctuary cities to publicly protest the surge in illegal immigration at the southern border. But, as policymakers debate how to respond to the influx of displaced persons, some cities, including Philadelphia, are welcoming them as a necessary boost to the local economy.
Immigration Shifts under the Biden Administration
According to data from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the rate of immigration from our southern border more than doubled after President Biden took office in 2021. Many suggest this surge is in response to the more liberal immigration policies of the Biden administration, especially as compared to his predecessor. Indeed, Biden has made proposals for immigration reforms that would allow more immigrants to enter the country while providing a path to lawful status to millions who remain undocumented.
Conservative Governors Take Aim at Biden on Immigration Policy
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis made headlines late last year when they began bussing migrants from their states to northern cities including New York, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Chicago. In what has been condemned as a publicity stunt, immigrants were even dropped off at the residence of Vice President Harris and at 30th Street Station in Philadelphia. The purpose of dropping off busloads of people in an unexpected place or manner is to create as much disruption as possible. One such incident even occurred on Christmas Eve night. According to the Texas Tribune, Texas’ novel migrant-bussing program cost state residents $26 million in tax dollars before the close of last year.
Philadelphia Welcomes Migrants with Open Arms
According to an article in the Pennsylvania Capital-Star by Ethan Dodd, the intentionally disruptive program has produced some benefits for the migrants involved. For instance, most were intending to reach northern cities anyway, to be closer to families, so the transportation was not unwelcome.
In Philadelphia, migrants found a more protective and proactive government than in either Texas or Florida. The city has language access policies and city services that extend to all people, regardless of immigration status. Further, local police will not cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the pursuit of undocumented persons, unless, of course, the police have a federal arrest warrant. These policies all create an environment that explains why Philadelphia may be referred to as a “welcoming city.”
According to the office of Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kinney, immigrants, and their families “have been essential to the growth and success of Philadelphia.” Indeed, a massive influx of foreign-born residents between 2000 and 2016 helped to boost Philadelphia’s population, reaching growth for the first time in over a half century.
That said, due to ongoing economic struggles related to the pandemic, Philadelphia is having trouble keeping up with the continued influx of immigrants. In recent years, policymakers have made concerted efforts to welcome immigrants to the Keystone State. In February 2022, Democratic Representatives Sara Innamorato of Allegheny County and Joe Hohenstein of Philadelphia introduced a bill to create an Office of New Pennsylvanians aimed at welcoming immigrants and their families. It remains to be seen, however, whether Pennsylvania can attract enough immigrants to fuel growth into the coming decades.