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Flood of new migrants is burdening some cities — while others would welcome them

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

For more than a year now, Texas Governor Greg Abbott has been sending busloads of migrants to cities such as Denver, Chicago, Philadelphia and New York. It's part of a program that governor calls Operation Lone Star, and it's led to emergency declarations and pleas for federal assistance from mayors as the volume of migrants strains local resources. In contrast to other cities such as Topeka, Kan., Dayton, Ohio, and Erie, Pa., say they have the room, they have the space and are ready to welcome documented migrants. Joe Schember is the mayor of Erie. He joins us now.

Mayor, so why should migrants consider Erie for their home in the United States?

JOE SCHEMBER: You know, the topic of immigration is a very important one here in the city of Erie. In fact, since I took office in 2018 - so I just finished my sixth year - my team and I at City Hall have been working very hard every day on our vision to make Erie a community of choice, where we celebrate six things, and we - I campaigned on this seven years ago, and we live by it - these five items that we want to celebrate. First is our rich natural - cultural diversity that we have here in Erie. Second is our welcoming, vibrant neighborhoods. Third, our world-class downtown and Lake Erie bayfront, and fifth is our excellent education for everyone - I'm sorry, that was fourth. And fifth is an abundance of good family-sustaining jobs. So having new Americans come in and settle here is very, very important. You know, we swear in...

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah.

SCHEMBER: ...Ten times a year at the federal courthouse. I'll stop there for a minute.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. That last thing you mentioned - the jobs. Does Erie need people to fill jobs? What jobs are you talking about?

SCHEMBER: We do. And, you know, kind of surprised me when I took office as mayor how many job openings there are. There's a lot of possibilities. And Erie went through the kind of change that I think most cities in the United States went through where we had these great factory jobs along 12th Street, and that's where almost everyone in Erie worked. Those jobs went away. They don't exist anymore. And so Erie was run down for a while, but now it's turning around, and we're moving it forward. In fact, since - over the last about 50 years, we've lost about 40,000 people in population. Most of them had just moved out to the suburbs of Erie, but they left the city. And now we're trying to turn that around and bring more people in.

MARTÍNEZ: How do your constituents feel about what you're proposing?

SCHEMBER: I think the vast majority of them are very supportive of it. Because we swear in about - we've sworn in about 60 groups of new Americans - there's about 50 each group - in the six years I have been mayor. We do 10 of those a year. And we've had people - we - in the last 10 years, we've sworn in 3,337 new U.S. citizens from 110 different countries all over the world. And we're very proud of that. And it's something that - probably most people think about Erie - they don't think about the cultural diversity we have and how much we value it, but we really do, and we're very, very proud of that.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, does your city have the resources in place to house and support new migrants while they maybe try to get on their feet if they were to move there?

SCHEMBER: Yes, we do. We have a lot of companies, nonprofits, that work on this. We have some government agencies that support this as well and help people get settled, both state and local individuals. We can of course always use more, but we're very proud of what we've got to let people - help people settle in and become part of Erie. And in a generation or two, you don't even know the difference from other people.

MARTÍNEZ: One more thing quickly, Mayor. How do Republicans in Erie feel about what you're saying?

SCHEMBER: You know, Erie is a heavily Democratic town. I happen to be a Democrat...

MARTÍNEZ: Right.

SCHEMBER: ...But I think most Republicans support us in this as well, which I'm proud of and I try to work with - we have a Republican county executive who I try to work with very closely as well, because we're both leading the city and the county, and we need to work together.

MARTÍNEZ: Erie, Pa. mayor Joe Schember. Thank you very much, Mayor.

SCHEMBER: Thanks for having me on. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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