Detroit's existing immigrant communities feel left out by a new proposal to attract skilled immigrants

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Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman. This is "The World". Here are two topics President Obama is sure to mention in his State of the Union address tonight- the economy and immigration reform. Both are key for the future of the United States and for the future of one American city in particular - Detroit, and that's where we begin out program today. Detroit is not only bankrupt, but it's been steadily losing population as well. So last week, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder asked the Obama administration to help by issuing special visas to specifically attract talented immigrants to Detroit.

Rick Snyder: Let's bring fifty thousand high-skilled immigrants to Detroit. Let's create an environment where they can live and work in Detroit and create those jobs. Think about the power and the size of this program and what it could do to bring back Detroit even faster and better. It's outstanding.

Werman: Martina Guzman is a reporter at WDET in Detroit. So how is this going to work?

Martina Guzman: Well, therein lies I think the biggest question. I mean what Governor Snyder has done is he has said openly that he wants fifty thousand visas to come to Detroit. He would like five thousand the first year, ten thousand three years after, and fifteen on the final year. I think what people don't seem to understand is that it would take the Department of Homeland Security to make a very special provision for Detroit and say, "You know what, Detroit? You have special needs and we're going to grant you this special provision so that you can get fifty thousand visas." The immigration lawyers that I've spoken to, and in fact some of them are highly-skilled experts in this area, say that the chances of this happening are slim to none.

Werman: How about Detroit's immigrant communities? How are they reacting to this plan?

Guzman: So what the immigrant communities that are already here are saying, you know, "Hey, why don't you invest in the workers that are here? There are people that have been here for multiple generations that have been impacted by this downturn in the economy that would love nothing more than to have the training and the skills to get an IT job and to fill these positions that you say are so desperately needed." I spoke to Elizabeth Miranda yesterday. She gets sort of contract jobs here and there, but she hasn't been able to have a full-time job in several years. She's Mexican-American, she fifty-one years old, and she said, "Why don't they work on stopping deporting immigrants that are already here, who are already contributing to Detroit? Some of them already have businesses and have developed businesses. Why can't they make it easy for them to get the proper documentation? Why can't we train children that are in high school from immigrant communities and get them in the pipeline for these IT jobs that Governor Snyder says are so desperately needed?"

Werman: It kinda feels like Governor Snyder wants to turn Detroit into a just-add-water Silicon Valley.

Guzman: That's true, but the reality of that happening is very difficult. And I also spoke yesterday to an engineer who actually does hiring for these IT companies. He says that Detroit desperately needs these kinds of jobs. I spoke to him about what other people had said about hiring people here in Detroit and he said, "Look, I'd love to hire an US employee. I would love to hire someone from here, but when I can't find them, I have to go elsewhere." And the reality, he said, is, they don't want to have to train anyone. He said it takes too long, and they want someone instantly and immediately.

Werman: So what does the current immigrant community in Detroit want to see happen so they benefit?

Guzman: Well, they want to I think really immigration reform. I mean Michigan is a border state, we border with Canada, and because of that we have a much higher presence of immigrations in customs enforcement. And this community, this Latino community that has been growing and growing and growing for many years, and when Detroit was in its economic downturn was the only community that actually had serious bustling economic movement, and now you see that community leaving because of the presence of ICE - Immigration and Customs Enforcement. And so I think what they feel is that, "Why don't you address these problems so that we don't have to leave the city." They can continue to contribute to Detroit's economy. Another thing I did notice, very conservative Republicans in Michigan are incredibly supportive of this and I think that is the genius of what Governor Rick Snyder did. He came out boldly with his huge number of fifty thousand, he made national headlines with it, and it's his way of getting ahead of the immigration debate instead of the Republican party staying behind it.

Werman: Martina, thanks so much for your time.

Guzman: Marco, you're welcome.

Werman: Reporter Martina Guzman with station WDET in Detroit.