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Baltimore mayor: Immigrant executive actions will help city

Last week, President Barack Obama outlined his plan to protect millions of immigrants from deportation — a monumental first step in addressing our nation's broken immigration system. His executive action will be felt most strongly in cities across America, cities like Baltimore.

Throughout our rich history, Baltimore City has welcomed hard-working individuals from across the world whose unique talents, energy and perspectives have strengthened our growing economy and diversified the fabric of our neighborhoods. And we have witnessed exactly how fostering an inclusive and welcoming environment can help grow our city.

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New Americans not only bolster our city's population, they have a significant, positive impact on our economy and the culture of the neighborhoods they call home. Foreign-born workers in Baltimore earned a median household income of more than $40,000 in 2011, totaling approximately $1 billion in wages that trickle back into the local economy.

Baltimore's approximately 45,000 immigrants — 75 percent of whom have arrived since 1990 — own more than 7,500 homes in the city and rent another 11,700, helping to stabilize many neighborhoods once thought to be in decline. New Americans own 21 percent of the city's businesses, pumping $1.3 billion in sales into the local economy and helping to drive commerce in our communities.

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Baltimore continues to be a place of hope and prosperity for immigrant and refugee communities, and it is imperative that we recognize the unique opportunities immigrants bring and welcome them to join us in building a stronger city.

For this reason, earlier this year, I created the Mayor's Office of Immigrant and Multicultural Affairs (MIMA) to promote community well being, stimulate economic development and nurture the integration of immigrant communities. This new office grew out of a recommendation from our New Americans Task Force — a diverse group of stakeholders I organized last year to examine ways to incorporate immigrants as part of my goal to grow Baltimore by 10,000 families over the next decade. In September, the New Americans Task Force, in collaboration with MIMA and the Abell Foundation, released a report that includes 32 recommendations to further strengthen Baltimore as a welcoming place of economic opportunity and inclusion for immigrants, refugees and all those who wish for a better quality of life.

While we understand and value the cultural and economic benefits that immigrants bring to Baltimore, we have yet to witness the fullest potential of these communities hindered by a broken immigration system that, for far too long, has held many new Americans back — undermining our deepest values as Americans and our greatest aspirations for prosperity.

President Obama's executive actions come at a crucial moment for Baltimore, as more and more immigrants are choosing our city as a place to grow. The president's Immigration Accountability Executive Actions crack down on illegal immigration at the border, prioritize the deportation of felons over families, and require certain undocumented immigrants to pass a criminal background check and pay their fair share of taxes in order to temporarily stay in the U.S. without fear of deportation.

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Thousands of families who are already deeply rooted in our neighborhoods can finally come forward and formally join the labor force without the fear of being separated from their families. These actions will strengthen cities like Baltimore by keeping families together — growing our economies and fostering additional community trust in law enforcement and government.

America was built through the collective strength and ingenuity of people from different nations. Today, more than ever, our immigrant population plays an important role in shaping the cultural fabric of our country — especially our cities. Baltimore's immigrant population is growing, and we will continue to benefit from the unique talents, energy and perspectives of our foreign-born residents.

Together, we must renew our commitment to those seeking a better life in the United States. President Obama's action will further strengthen Baltimore's efforts to be a beacon of hope and opportunity for all who seek to build better, safer and stronger futures.

Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is mayor of the City of Baltimore; her email is mayor@baltimorecity.gov.

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