“Immigrants are walking through your doors every day, using their hard-earned income to support businesses and our local economy. This spending and support help further sustain our regional economic prosperity in more than commercial ways.”
That’s Guillermo Cisneros, executive director of the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, reacting to the report, which was published by the New American Economy in conjunction with the City of Grand Rapids and other partners. It provides a snapshot of the economic impact foreign-born immigrants bring to Kent County.
“In 2016, foreign-born residents in Kent County contributed $3.3 billion dollars to the area’s GDP.”
Abel Quintino was born in Guanajuato, Mexico and moved to Michigan to work as an agricultural worker. He has lived in Kent County for 35 years.
“We started to work in the field and worked there on cucumber, on sparragus, on strawberry, peach, blueberry and apple, which is the last one of the season.”
He says, in his experience, the industry is set up for farmers to take advantage of the transient agricultural labor force.
“There are a lot of farmers and companies who don’t care because they say, “well, we use them one or two years and then they leave, new ones come, we use them two or three years and then they leave, and new ones come,” and they have one less responsibility.”
Stacy Stout, Assistant to the Grand Rapids City Manager, says the data makes the case for racial equity.
“Because not all immigrants are treated the same. Some get, you know there is corporate immigration attorneys that will help them come here, and others are saving, you know, every dime they can to try. And so how can they better support helping people through the process.”
For folks like Cisneros and Quintino, the numbers are not just a representation of their lived experiences as foreign-born immigrants, but a way to demonstrate the economic impact they bring to Kent County.
Michelle Jokisch Polo WGVU News