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In Michigan Gov.'s Call for Immigrants to Revive Detroit, Could Schools Manage?

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder is pledging to push an initiative to bring 50,000 skilled immigrants (and their families) to Detroit—an effort he says is critical for saving the city from economic extinction.

On its face, the proposal—which would require the federal government to agree to reserving 50,000 of its employment-based visas just for Detroit-bound immigrants over the next five years—seems pretty far-fetched. But it also signals just how desperate things have become for battered Detroit—which declared bankruptcy in 2013 and has lost hundreds of thousands of residents in recent years. 

Snyder's proposal is somewhat akin to what we've seen in recent years from city governments that have actively recruited immigrants to reverse steep population declines and jumpstart economic growth. Ohio cities like Cleveland and Dayton, to name a couple. One major political difference to note here, however: Snyder is a Republican.

While the sort of immigrants Snyder is seeking would be highly educated and equipped with skills that employers are after, a massive influx of these workers and their families could present challenges and opportunities for the city school system, which has been hobbled for years by declining enrollment, shrinking budgets, and dismal academic performance. The school system—with about 40,000 students—is currently run by an appointed emergency manager.

So, in the long shot event that Detroit would suddenly become a hotbed of immigrant skilled labor, how equipped would it be to serve more immigrant children, a number of which would presumably need English-as-a-second-language services?

And, perhaps more importantly, how seriously would highly educated immigrants consider placing their children in Detroit's public schools? If they opted for charters or private schools, a critical part of the city's resuscitation needs would be missed.

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