Las Vegas Sun

July 18, 2019

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Guest column:

Mayor must remember immigrants’ vital role in city

When Mayor Carolyn Goodman tweeted on Jan. 26 that Las Vegas is “not a sanctuary city,” I had to wonder: Exactly what city has she been running for the past six years, and her husband the dozen years before that?

It can’t be the city where her own Economic and Urban Development Department posts a demographic analysis showing that 33.2 percent of the city’s population is Hispanic, more even than Clark County’s 31 percent. Whites made up 45.9 percent of the city’s population, according to the same analysis, but other studies have shown that many of them are aging, whereas the Hispanic population tends to be younger. Add to that the 6.2 percent of the city’s population that is Asian, .6 percent Pacific Islander and 3 percent “more than one race,” and you conclude that Las Vegas is a city of immigrants and is becoming more so every year.

The point is, why go out of your way to offend a third of your city whose labor provides the backbone of the city’s economy and supplies our hotels, casinos and construction sites with a population that is eager and appreciative of the work?

This isn’t about legal or illegal immigration. It is about creating an atmosphere that welcomes those who make an effort to come to this country to work, raise their families, pay taxes and follow the path to citizenship. I believe that should be accomplished legally and within the framework of existing laws and regulations, but as a businessperson, I know firsthand the challenge of staffing jobs with the resources available.

Remember, Las Vegas is a service economy. We don’t operate manufacturing lines or assemble iPhones that can move wherever labor is cheap and regulations are light. We run service businesses that are located in Las Vegas because that’s where the tourists visit, and because the city and state have created a favorable and supportive economic climate for the industry. You can’t relocate a casino-resort to Guangzhou and expect a good portion of the population of Los Angeles to swing by for the weekend.

My grandfather arrived from Russia through Ellis Island in the early part of the past century. It is because I am a beneficiary of my grandfather’s immigrant experience that I believe it is my obligation as a citizen to uphold the same ideals that allowed him into this country to create a better life for his family. Most immigrants — legal or otherwise — are seeking employment, safety and stability. Contrary to political rhetoric, their primary motivation is not to take a job from someone else or sponge off our benefits.

Like many social issues, I approach this one first as a businessperson. In the midst of the Great Recession, I built the nation’s second largest timeshare company (headquartered in Las Vegas, I might add) by finding the best people to fill available positions, eventually creating 15,000 jobs in 35 countries. Immigration status, while important, is the concern of the Homeland Security Department and U.S. Customs and Border Protection. I also developed and acquired resorts, or created exchange programs, in Mexico, Latin America and overseas, providing domestic employment so workers wouldn’t have to risk arrest — or their lives — by crossing the border into the U.S.

In addition, I helped build and lead Brand USA, the public-private marketing entity created in 2010 to encourage travelers to explore the U.S. Starting from scratch, we created an organization that generated an incremental $3 billion in visitor spending in the U.S. in fiscal year 2015, or a return on investment of more than $19 for every dollar spent on marketing.

So beyond my own company’s needs, I have a sensitivity to the crucial role of labor in the nation’s tourist economy, a component of the larger services sector that provides the lion’s share of the nation’s economic engine. These businesses simply cannot function without housekeepers, waiters, chefs and all the other people whose appreciation for their job is reflected in the level of service they provide to guests.

“Sanctuary city” is more of a term of art and a declaration, not a formal legal designation. It’s like announcing you’re a nuclear-free zone. If that’s the case, why would the mayor of Las Vegas risk offending a growing population that forms a sizable percentage of the taxpayer and employment base, never mind her own constituency? In fact, Nevada’s undocumented immigrant population fell from 2009 through 2014, according to a September report from the Pew Research Center. I’d like to think that’s a reflection of assimilation, but whatever the case, it’s a population far more crucial to Nevada’s and Las Vegas’ economy than the absolute numbers suggest.

I support an effective immigration policy that provides a legal path to American citizenship. But making public pronouncements that sow fear and paranoia aren’t going to make things better, and they might end up backfiring by undermining the bulk of Las Vegas’ and Nevada’s economy.

Stephen Cloobeck is the founder and original chairman and CEO of Diamond Resorts International.

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