Immigration ‘absolutely’ needs to be a part of growing Milwaukee to one million residents, say Mayor Johnson and County Executive Crowley
From The Recombobulation Area’s extended interview with the mayor and county executive.
The Recombobulation Area is a ten-time Milwaukee Press Club award-winningweekly opinion column and online publication written, edited and published by longtime Milwaukee journalist Dan Shafer. Learn more about it here.
In his campaign for mayor, Cavalier Johnson put forth a bold goal.
That goal, as was first reported by The Recombobulation Area, was to grow the city of Milwaukee’s population to one million people.
That growth could come from a variety of places, and ways to reach that ambitious number has been a major discussion topic in the city since Johnson’s election in April 2022.
One topic that perhaps hasn’t received as much attention as others, however, is immigration.
Immigration and the growth of diverse communities, particularly Hispanic and Asian communities, has been a big part of stabilizing Milwaukee’s population in recent years. According to a 2016 study from UW-Milwaukee and the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, growth of the Latino population accounted for all of the metro area’s population growth between 1990 and 2014.
The mayor and county executive agreed that immigration “absolutely” needs to be a bigger part of the City and County’s growth going forward.
“We're not going to be able to reach our goals for population growth in this community unless immigration is a part of that,” said Johnson. “I realize that and I recognize that and I want to foster a community where everybody feels welcome.”
“Come to Milwaukee!” said Crowley, on the topic of immigration. “We have something to offer everybody, no matter what background you come from. We are a very welcoming place. We’re the most diverse place here in the state of Wisconsin.”
Johnson added that he sees Milwaukee as “Wisconsin’s Ellis Island.”
“We are and will continue to be a welcoming place in the city of Milwaukee,” said Johnson. “To me, I feel like we're Wisconsin's Ellis Island, in a sense, because nowhere else in this state are you going to find the population, the population density, the diversity that you see here in the City of Milwaukee. And that's something for us to be proud of, because that's the American story. And so we want to see that.”
Recent high-profile examples of governors from some southern states relocating migrants, oftentimes in political stunts, has prompted some discussion on the topic of immigration within the country. Could Milwaukee counteract this by sending a message that the city is a place where people from all over the world can come to and build a life? Possibly, these leaders say. But it must be done responsibly.
“What we don't want to see is for folks to be used as political props in a political stunt, as you've seen with governors DeSantis and Abbott, sending people all across the country who are fleeing their home countries, because they feel unsafe, or whatever the case may be,” said Johnson. “I think the other thing that we want to be cognizant of is we don't want our systems to be overwhelmed. Because as some of those communities along the border have seen with an influx of migrants from other countries, if you don't have the infrastructure in place to take in those folks, then you have folks sleeping on the street or sleeping in police district stations, as we see in Chicago or New York City and the like. So we don't want that to happen. We want to make sure there's a humanitarian touch to this while also being a welcoming place for folks to come.”
Crowley echoed many of the mayor’s statements.
“To be very clear, it's unfortunate what we're seeing related to how these lives are being used as political pawns,” he said. “To add on to what the mayor just said, we want to set folks up for success. And so we need to make sure that we're building that infrastructure in order to set people up for success to be able to contribute and be taxpayers, and be able to work the many jobs that we have available, not just here within Milwaukee County, but many of our surrounding areas.”
Crowley also mentioned that more immigration to the area could help address some of the worker shortages seen in the Milwaukee metro area.
“I find it ironic when you're hearing particularly Republicans talk about the need for more workers, and yet, they don't want to hire any of these migrant workers — you know, oh, those aren't our folks,” he said. “At the end of the day, we have to fill these jobs. And no matter where they're coming from, these are real people with real needs who want to contribute back to society. And this can be that welcoming place, but we need that infrastructure to do just that. We've been able to do things around our homeless population, and build more affordable housing for those who are currently here…We have to make sure that the infrastructure is available to make sure that we can set folks up for success.”
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Watch the full interview with the mayor and county executive here.
Or listen to the conversation as a podcast here.
Find our full coverage of this special extended interview here.
Dan Shafer is a journalist from Milwaukee who writes and publishes The Recombobulation Area. He’s also written for The New York Times, The Daily Beast, Heartland Signal, Belt Magazine, WisPolitics, and Milwaukee Record. He previously worked at Seattle Magazine, Seattle Business Magazine, the Milwaukee Business Journal, Milwaukee Magazine, and BizTimes Milwaukee. He’s won 17 Milwaukee Press Club Excellence in Journalism Awards. He’s on Twitter at @DanRShafer.
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