VOICES: Immigration is the solution, not the problem

Maha Kashani is an energy originator, community advocate, sustainability enthusiast, and Dayton Flyer residing in Washington Township with her husband Matthew and toddler Lana.

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Maha Kashani is an energy originator, community advocate, sustainability enthusiast, and Dayton Flyer residing in Washington Township with her husband Matthew and toddler Lana.

I am a first-generation immigrant. A proud one. Led by my father, we left Iran during the war in pursuit of higher education and full of hope for what this land of opportunity could have in store for our family. We arrived in Madison, Wisconsin, and my father – now a professor at the University of Dayton – worked his way towards earning his PhD. Almost 36 years later, we are living the American dream thanks to hard work, determination, perseverance and acceptance. I was accepted in every community that we lived – from Wisconsin to Indiana to Michigan to Ohio – and in every job that I worked, from my first job scooping ice cream at Häagen-Dazs in the Dayton mall to where I am today with IGS Energy.

Growing up as an immigrant, I knew I was different, but always felt that being Middle Eastern made me more distinguished. When we celebrated our New Year – Nowruz, marked by the first day of Spring – all my friends thought it was fascinating. Anytime I came back from visiting Iran, everyone wanted to see pictures. When my mom made traditional Persian or Arabic food, all my friends swooned!

Sadly, the attitude towards immigrants has shifted over the years, beginning with the horrific events of 9/11 and hitting its peak under the Trump presidency. Instead of being celebrated for our differences and unique contributions, we felt hostility – especially us immigrants with brown skin. Immigration has become politicized, and immigrants who are in search of a legal path to the American dream have become villainized in the worst way. But why? A few bad apples come in every color and from every corner of the world, so why are we hyper-focused on them?

Instead, can’t we focus on the spectacular economic impact of immigrants? According to a study by New American Economy, in 2019 Montgomery County households with immigrant heads earned an eye-popping $782 million in income. That resulted in significant contributions towards critical services needed in our communities and stimulation of our local economy with almost $145 million paid in federal taxes and over $75 million in state and local taxes which left $562 million in spending power. That same year, foreign-born residents in Montgomery County contributed $1.9 billion to the county’s GDP. That’s 6.2% of the total!

And what about the cultural contributions we’ve made? Organizations like the nonpartisan and nonsectarian Dayton Arab American Forum have hosted dozens of events over the years to highlight our deep, rich and beautiful Arab food, history and culture to help Daytonians see beyond common misperceptions about the countries we are from or the color of our skin.

While the contributions and impact that legal immigration has made on our culture and economy is indisputable, many still believe immigration is a problem. I believe it is the solution.

Let’s consider one of our biggest present day economic challenges, the labor shortage. What if a shift in our immigration policy was the answer? Thousands of determined and resilient individuals are willing to work hard for the opportunity to pursue the American dream of building a safe and secure life for their families. What if they moved into struggling communities, filled these jobs that no one seems to want, pay their taxes, and then use their income to buy or rent vacant properties, spend money at struggling restaurants, and patronize small businesses. We could use their help to stimulate and bring these communities back to life.

You might argue immigration is a problem, but all I see are amazing friends, neighbors, and co-workers who are making America the best place to live, work, and play.

Maha Kashani is an energy originator, community advocate, sustainability enthusiast, and Dayton Flyer residing in Washington Township with her husband Matthew and toddler Lana.

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