On Thursday, Vice President Mike Pence and U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross will be in Utah to speak with local business and State leaders about the global economy and learn about how Utah has fostered economic success—what Governor Herbert likes to call the “Utah Way.”
There is no question that the Vice President and Secretary Ross can learn much from Utah’s achievements. Chief among these lessons should be that this success is a direct result of our long legacy as a place of refuge—from the original Mormon pioneers to more recent arrivals from places like Afghanistan, Bosnia, Sudan, Honduras, and Iraq (to name just a few).
Today, our state is home to nearly 273,000 immigrants, who, according to a recent report, provide a collective economic benefit to Utah of more than $560 million. Immigrant households paid more than $534 million in state and local taxes and had $5.3 billion in collective spending power, the report found.
Our Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) eligible residents are also making significant economic contributions. Of the more than 13,600 DACA-eligible Utahns, 91 percent are employed and have paid more than $22 million in taxes, numbers which belie the notion that they are a drain on our state—or national—economy.
Today statewide there are 39,000 immigrant owned businesses. In Salt Lake City alone, there 561 minority-owned businesses, including many grown out of the hard work of our immigrant and refugee communities.
At a time when the Trump Administration has repeatedly taken steps to close the door to immigrants and refugees from around the world, Vice President Pence and Secretary Ross should perhaps hear from some of the local people I have had the pleasure of meeting during my time as mayor.
They should meet Hoang Nguyen, a Vietnamese immigrant who came to Utah as a child in the 1970s and has worked to build the Sapa Investment Group, owner of Sapa Asian Grill on State Street, and the driving force behind the $10 million Food Alley development of 17 restaurants on 200 East.
Or they could stop at Spice Kitchen, the Salt Lake City-backed culinary incubator kitchen that supports countless new food economy businesses—from caterers to farmers and meal prep services—creating jobs and helping many in our refugee community gain self-sufficiency.
They should also hear from our local business owners who are suffering with each step the administration takes toward more restrictive immigration policies.
Since 2009, Utah has welcomed an average of 1,200 refugees each year. Those numbers have dropped dramatically since President Trump was elected. In 2016, Utah proudly welcomed 1,319 new immigrants, only to see those numbers dwindle to 366 in 2018 as a result of the President’s policies.
Such losses have not only placed a strain on the ability of local businesses owners seeking to fill a variety of jobs, but they have cut at the heart of our community’s welcoming values.
Our state’s political, business, and community leaders have called on our federal government to pass comprehensive immigration policies that are human, protect families, and benefit the nation’s economy. A call which has largely fallen on deaf ears—and one which I hope is repeated directly to the Vice President and Secretary by the state leaders accompanying them on their tour.
In just five days, Salt Lake City will once again welcome the world as we host the 68th United Nations Civil Society Conference. Thousands of people will convene in our City to discuss the best ways to build sustainable and inclusive cities—a conversation which will undoubtedly include how to welcome and establish new migrants into communities.
Salt Lake City was given this prestigious honor precisely for our willingness to be a place of refuge for those in need.
Whether or not the Vice President and Secretary Ross hear this message during their visit, or simply make their speeches and leave, our community will continue to stand with open arms ready to greet all who want to come here.
After all, it’s the Utah way.