From the start, Anaheim has been a city of immigrants who have helped build one of California’s great economic success stories.
Anaheim’s very name reflects the role immigrants have played here. Our city’s founding Bavarian winemakers combined “heim” — German for home — with Ana from the Santa Ana River, a name given by another immigrant, Spanish explorer Juan Gaspar de Portola.
As cities across the country celebrate Immigrant Heritage Month in June, Anaheim stands as shining example of an American ideal, a place where newcomers can make their own way, and make a better city in the process.
For more than 160 years, newcomers have invented and reinvented Anaheim.
Along Brookhurst Street in west Anaheim, Arab-Americans have brought authentic restaurants, shops, services and a renewed sense of community.
On Anaheim Boulevard, Mexican-Americans have revived our city’s northern gateway. The area is the birthplace of Northgate Gonzalez Markets, which today is the region’s leading Hispanic grocer with more than 40 stores across Southern California.
With Orange County unemployment at a 19-year low, I’ve noticed something interesting in Anaheim: Immigrants and the children of immigrants are creating many of our new jobs.
This gives us a competitive advantage. Nearly 150,000 of Anaheim’s residents are either first- or second-generation Americans, making up 40 percent of our population.
Research tells us that one of the best predictors of a city’s entrepreneurial growth is the size of its immigrant population. The bigger this population is, the more likely a city’s economy will continue to grow.
As our nation debates immigration, we must keep in mind the critical economic, civic and community-building roles immigrants play.
We must provide a path toward citizenship for the undocumented who, once here, have played by the rules and pursued the American dream. Uprooting them would be inconsistent with our history and values.
But those who have come here to pursue crime — there is no place for them. We must hold them accountable for their actions, all the way up to deportation.
Most can agree that children brought to our country are a unique case. As children, they had little choice in coming here and were incapable of willfully breaking immigration law. Children, by definition, are innocent.
The federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, better known as DACA, recognized this. Yet many young people in Anaheim and across Orange County continue to live in limbo with continued uncertainty around DACA.
Anaheim is home to about 7,000 young people who fell under DACA. They are part of an estimated 63,000 across Orange County. When you consider that nearly 95 percent of them are working or enrolled in college, it is clear that they are a key part of our economy and community.
I join with mayors across the country in calling for congressional action to restore DACA. Congress has the ability, and responsibility, to pass a permanent legislative solution clarifying the right of these Americans to stay here and providing an earned pathway to citizenship. But for nearly nine months, Congress has failed to act.
While solving DACA lies with Congress, in Anaheim we have taken steps to recognize the importance of immigrants to our civic and economic future.
In October, the Anaheim City Council voted to make Anaheim a “Welcoming City.” What does that mean? It means embracing what America has done for centuries — welcoming and integrating newcomers and benefiting from the positive role they can play in our communities and economies.
As part of Welcoming America, we join a national network of more than 100 cities to better integrate recent arrivals into our communities. Welcoming America brings common sense to immigration issues. With America’s birthrate at its lowest level in 30 years, embracing immigration reform isn’t a choice, it’s an economic necessity.
We need to fix our broken immigration system with comprehensive change that addresses border security, earned citizenship, worker visas and uniform employment verification. We must also address DACA as a first step toward larger reform.
Without immigration, Anaheim would not be what it is today. But we’re not done yet. If history is a guide, we need newcomers seeking a better life to shape the future of our city.
Tom Tait is mayor of Anaheim.
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