While many states in the U.S. are adopting immigrant-friendly policies to try to attract immigrants to their areas, Missouri has fallen behind and is just now taking a new look at this important issue. As a state, “Missouri lags behind many other states in its Hispanic population. But the St Louis region is home to the largest bloc of Bosnian immigrants outside the country of Bosnia, as well as large populations of Asian-Americans.” The Missouri Senate panel held a three day hearing to discuss available options that can be put in place to attract legal immigrants to Missouri.
The Missouri Senate’s new Blue Ribbon Panel on immigration is charged with reviewing Missouri’s current immigration policies and enacting policies that strengthen these laws. The speakers at one recent hearing in St. Louis included representatives from local immigrant groups, business leaders and academics. Chairman John Lamping commented, “We need to have a better understanding of the impact of immigration in Missouri. Our focus is to understand where we need to update and improve our laws to make Missouri a more attractive destination for legal immigrants.” Through various studies that have been conducted, results show that the average Missouri resident is unaware of the benefits that are attached to states that have immigrant friendly policies.
Immigration is beneficial for future economic growth in Missouri. Immigrants provide much needed population and talent that can help revive struggling towns. Supporters of Missouri adapting policies that are more welcoming for immigrants have caused legislators to scrutinize the current Missouri laws. Several analysts have voiced their concern over the Missouri General Assembly being anti-immigrant subsequent to the 2008 ruling which designated English as Missouri’s “Official language.” These allegations were also accompanied by reports of legal immigrants barred from receiving driver’s licenses because of mix ups with documents.
While changes have been made to help immigrants take drivers exams in various languages, legislators need to take a stronger stance in communicating with the public and taking steps forward rather than backwards with immigration reform. Tim Nowak, the executive director of World Trade Center St. Louis, has been researching the economic benefits of immigration in the St. Louis region and why St. Louis attracts fewer immigrants compared to other big cities. The results have shown the strong emphasis preventing illegal immigration has deterred documented immigrants from traveling to St. Louis as well as the state’s slower growth. Furthermore, immigrants bring necessary labor, pay taxes, and demand goods and services spurring the economy. In fact, more than 50 percent of the biological genetics department at Washington University consists of immigrants from various countries.
Legislators are called to take on a pro-immigration approach. Regulations should be used to help people instead of hinder those following the rules. Immigrants want to be treated fairly and given the same opportunities as American citizens have. James Qin, who emigrated from China 25 years ago, asks legislators to “Please include us.” Most of the people in the U.S. hail from immigrants regardless which country they come from, “At the end of the day, we are all Americans.”
If you have questions regarding current immigration laws in Missouri, contact us at 314-961-8200.
PS - we discussed this panel on our Homeward Bound podcast this week. You can access the podcast here.