Editorials

Without immigrants, Kentucky stagnates

Festival Latino de Lexington is an annual event in the courthouse plaza.
Festival Latino de Lexington is an annual event in the courthouse plaza.

Every corner of Kentucky has gained population from international migration.

All we can say is, “Welcome. We need you.”

Block the flow of people from other countries, and Kentucky would be a net loser in migration because, as a new analysis for the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce reveals, more Kentuckians are moving to other states than people from other states are moving here.

The state’s almost 4.5 million residents include 169,085 people or 3.8 percent who were born in another country, according to 2017 data released Thursday by the U.S. Census. That’s lower than the nation’s 13.7 percent foreign-born population but still enough to be Kentucky’s third largest city.

Kentucky’s immigrants are raising the state’s education level. Among Kentucky residents who are 25 or older, 31.9 percent of the foreign-born population have a bachelor’s or graduate degree compared with 22.3 percent of Kentuckians who were born in this country and have a bachelor’s or graduate degree, according to Census estimates for the years 2012 through 2016.

Those numbers refute President Donald Trump’s portrayal of immigrants as backward criminals.

Kentucky’s 20 percent increase in foreign-born residents since 2010 also is good for the economy at a time when unemployment is low and Kentucky employers say they need more workers.

It’s disturbing, then, to realize that some of our hardworking neighbors will fall victim to Trump’s unleashing of harassment and detention based on ethnicity and decades-old visa technicalities. Not even U.S. citizenship and military service are a shield from Trump’s purge. The Washington Post recently reported that along the U.S.-Mexico border, the administration is jailing and trying to deport increasing numbers of U.S. citizens, including veterans, when they apply for a passport on suspicion that their birth certificates were fraudulent. Citizens have had their passports revoked when they were trying to re-enter the U.S. from abroad.

Congress seems incapable of reeling in Trump or modernizing immigration laws, which are long overdue for an update. Just ask a tobacco or horse farmer.

According to the new Census data, about a third of Kentucky’s foreign-born population came from Asia and a little more than a third from the Americas. Thirteen percent came from Africa and 15 percent from Europe.

In Kentucky, births are still outnumbering deaths, according to “A Citizen’s Guide to Kentucky’s Economy,” an analysis for the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce by Louisville economist Paul Coomes. From 2010 to 2017, Kentucky recorded 402,569 births and 320,325 deaths for a net gain of 82,244 people.

When it comes to population change from migration, Kentucky’s 46,000 new residents from outside the U.S. more than offset Kentucky’s lost population to other states for a net gain of 33,000.

You can argue the pros and cons of population growth, especially when stalled in Lexington’s rush hour traffic. The areas on the far ends of Kentucky would gladly trade the pressures of growth for the problems associated with their population declines. Population determines a wide range of federal funding and grants and how many representatives a state has in Congress.

Kentucky is gaining population more slowly than the U.S. overall but faster than four of our seven surrounding states. And, even in places where native Kentuckians are leaving in droves, immigrants are finding opportunities to be productive and contribute.

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