Why Cleveland is trying to get more immigrants to move there

As the Republican National Convention descends on the city, we talk to those who are working to make Cleveland attractive to immigrants.

Cleveland is a city that’s been in economic decline for decades, the very buckle of the American rust belt. So some Clevelanders are looking at a growth strategy that may sound familiar to Californians: attracting more immigrants.

In the first half of the 20th century, Cleveland was celebrated as a self-confident and growing city, an industrial colossus of the midwest. At its height Cleveland had a population approaching a million people and was the 6th largest city in the country.

But then came de-industrialization. Factories closed. Unemployment rose. And a sharp decline in the city’s good fortune and population followed.

Abandoned factories and buildings in Cleveland reveal a vibrant past.
Between 1970 and 2013, Cleveland lost half of its residents.

Between 1970 and 2013, the city lost half of its residents. Founder of Belt, Anne Trubek has seen the remnants of the old city. “There are a lot of abandoned houses throughout the city. There are a lot of abandoned warehouses and factories throughout the city. So, there are a lot of empty lots where there used to be buildings. Where now they are sort of reverting to nature,” she said.

But some in Cleveland have plans to bring the city’s boom times back by turning Cleveland into a magnet for immigrants and refugees. “We don’t thrive if we don’t have the next group coming, said Director of Global Cleveland, Joe Cimperman, whose group works to attract immigrants to the city. “But for newcomers coming here, a city goes to sleep and it dies. And what we have to remember is the only way we wake up is every single day welcoming new people into our country.”

Leticia Ortiz owns La Bamba, the city's first and only tortilla manufacturing plant.
Leticia Ortiz owns La Bamba, the city’s first and only tortilla manufacturing plant.

Leticia Ortiz is one immigrant who has found success in the city. She owns La Bamba, the city’s first and only tortilla manufacturing plant.

Born in Mexico, Ortiz settled in Cleveland fifteen years ago. She represents a bright spot in the city’s demographic picture: the slow but steady increase in the city’s immigrant Latino population.

In fact, in all but one of Ohio’s 88 counties, population growth is being driven by people who identify themselves as immigrant and non-immigrant Latino.

“I see more Latinos coming to Cleveland and they see that they can make their dreams come true in Cleveland,” she said.

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However, with the Republican National Convention in town, not everyone is welcoming toward immigrants. Donald Trump famously wants to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico and ban Muslims from coming into the country.

For Joe Cimperman, the convention is just one week in the life of the city. “We are going to continue to disprove the theory that immigration is bad by being the city that thrives,” he said, “and after people leave we are going to double down on welcoming even more.”