By Farrah Fazal
ST. LOUIS (KSDK) - Immigrants are game changers to a thriving, surviving St. Louis. That's what city and county leaders believe and they're putting their money and energy behind it to prove it.
They said immigrants pay taxes. Those dollars fix roads, keep schools open and homes in neighborhood occupied.
Mayor Slay sent Senator McCaskill and other federal lawmakersa letter two days ago telling her and other senators and their counterparts in the House to pass immigration reform so immigrants can stream through St. Louis' open doors. The Senatepassed immigration reform on Thursday afternoon.
The House will now have to decide whether it will or not.
"It's the moment I've been waiting for," said Jenny Gama. She came to St. Louis as an undocumented child. She crossed the border crossing in Laredo, Texas with her mother and grandparents. "We all want to live the American dream."
She's living the American dream on the corner of Cherokee street. She and her mother opened a hair salon a year ago. She hired five people.
"Foreign born people are 60 percent more likely to start businesses than native born people," said Betsy Cohen, the project director of the city and county's new Mosaic Project to attract immigrants to St. Louis.
She said the revenue immigrants generate by starting businesses and fix our roads, keep our schools open and homes in our neighborhoods occupied. She said St. Louis only has four percent of the foreign born people living here compared to 20 percent in other places our size. She said immigrants tell her St. Louisans are helpful but not exactly welcoming to foreigners. She said laying out the welcome mat is a key factor to attracting new immigrants.
They will spread the word by mouth that St. Louis is the place to live and work.
"It's getting people to listen to a new message," she said. Gama said her mother never dreamed she would end up in St. Louis but now the Gamas can't imagine living anywhere else. She wants her relatives to come to.
"They want to come and help and experience America," she said.
Missouri state lawmakers passed several anti-immigration laws in 2008 that may have stopped the flow of immigrants into St. Louis. One law required schools to report a child's immigration status. Immigrants from Mexico, China and India make up the biggest number of immigrants in St. Louis.
You can track the impact of immigrants in Missouri on this website.