San Francisco has been a hub for immigrants from all over the world.
When President Trump first issued the executive order on immigration, the city became the first in the nation to sue the Federal administration.
Mayor Ed Lee has been a leading voice in this debate so, we had a conversation on his views on immigration and sanctuary cities. In this exclusive interview, he also talks about opportunities between San Francisco and Brazilian cities he visited last year and has a special message for women entrepreneurs.
BayBrazil: President Trump has proposed changes in the immigration system. What impact will merit-based immigration have on San Francisco’s economy?
Mayor Lee: Immigrants have made the United States, plain and simple. Proposals to limit immigration is against our values, and it will significantly curtail our ability to innovate and grow our economy. For me, limits to immigration are a personal affront. Not only am I child of immigrants, I lead a city of immigrants.
In San Francisco, foreign-born residents make up 35% of our population. This is the fifth highest concentration of any major US city. These residents account for 42 percent of San Francisco’s economic activity and they generate $60 billion with San Francisco each year. In California, immigrants are more likely to be self-employed than their native-born counterparts. They hold 39 percent of the California’s Ph.Ds. and immigrants make up a substantial portion of our services sector and construction sector.
By enforcing merit-based immigration, we will see limited growth in our bio-technology, technology and business sectors, which are already struggling to find qualified workers. We will also see our hospitality sector impacted. Limiting immigration to only highly-skilled workers ignores the important contributions of all types of immigrants. This has the potential to have a negative impact on our economy.
BayBrazil: You said that San Francisco will remain a “sanctuary city”, which clashes with President Trump’s agenda. Are you concerned that the federal government may withhold funding to sanctuary cities?
Mayor Lee: First and foremost, San Francisco will continue to stand up and fight for all our residents, despite what is happening nationally. We believe that the Administration’s threat to cut our federal funding through its Executive Order is unconstitutional, which is why our City filed a federal lawsuit against that the Administration. We are monitoring the Federal budget situation closely, and although nothing has been finalized, we are working with our City partners to ensure that we are demonstrating fiscal restraint to prepare for any impacts coming from the federal government.
BayBrazil: What are the major contributions of immigrants to the City of San Francisco?
Mayor Lee: Immigrants have played a major role in shaping San Francisco dating back before the city’s founding, and they have contributed to some of our earliest innovations. For instance, today you see denim jeans in all parts of the world. Those were invented by a pair of immigrants, Levi Strauss from Bavaria and Jacob Davis from Latvia, who lived here in San Francisco and whose company is still headquartered in the city
Our immigrant communities have immeasurable contributions to not just San Francisco, but to the state of California. Chinese immigrants helped construct the Pacific Railroad and the expansion of the San Francisco ports. They worked on massive infrastructure projects such as the Golden Gate Bridge.
Irish immigrants helped start some of San Francisco’s first banks. Other immigrant communities contributed, and it has led to San Francisco becoming the largest financial services center in the Western United States. We also owe our water system and railway infrastructure to another Irish immigrant who became San Francisco’s Chief Engineer, Michael O’Shaughnessy.
Immigrants have discovered innovations in tech, medicine and other scientific fields. They have enriched us culturally, leading to San Francisco being known as an international city with a rich and vibrant arts scene and culinary scene.
BayBrazil: Startups from all over the world have been flocking to SF more than ever in these past few years. Do you expect this trend to continue?
Mayor Lee: I believe that San Francisco has created a system that is attractive to entrepreneurs. However, we do not take our success for granted, and we are constantly working to attract businesses. This means talking with companies and their employees on a regular basis to ask them what they want from the City. Because we are responsive to the needs of the businesses and its people, we are able to continue to improve conditions in San Francisco that will attract new business entrepreneurs in the future.
BayBrazil: When it comes to access to capital, a very small percentage of women-led startups are backed by VC globally. Is it different in SF? What is your message for female entrepreneurs?
Mayor Lee: In San Francisco, we push the private sector to step up to the plate and institute more equitable policies and practices that provide equal pay and treatment in the workplace and equal treatment when it comes to funding women entrepreneurs. While I think the conversation is quickly moving in a positive direction, access to private capital for women entrepreneurs continues to remain a challenge and it’s critical that the private sector do more to support women.
I will say that in San Francisco, we are doing what we can to provide basic services for women and working mothers and their partners, such as guaranteed parental leave, guaranteed sick leave and guaranteed health care. We are doing what we can to ensure that women are positioned to succeed.
My message to female entrepreneurs is this: do not give up. The landscape for business is quickly evolving and investors and VCs will soon turn their focus to women-led ventures.
BayBrazil: You visited São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro last year, along with a group of SF-based companies. Do you see opportunities of increasing business between the City of San Francisco and Brazilian cities? What are the most attractive sectors?
Mayor Lee: I was impressed by what I saw in Sao Paulo and in Rio de Janeiro. I do see opportunities to increase business between San Francisco and those two cities. Through my LatinSF initiative, I am encouraging businesses in Brazil to come visit San Francisco and Silicon Valley and see the potential that exists here for their companies to grow.
The sectors that are most attractive to our city are those that complement our own. Information technology, life sciences and financial services from Brazil will do well in San Francisco. There is also opportunity for Brazilian enterprises, which I know can thrive in our competitive market.
BayBrazil: What are the major goals you expect to have accomplished at the City of San Francisco by the end of the year?
Mayor Lee: I will continue to make San Francisco a city for everyone. This means making a city that is welcoming to our immigrant communities and welcoming to those on every level of the socio-economic scale. This means that I remain committed to increasing housing opportunities for lower income and middle-income residents.
I will continue to work with our Bay Area partners to work on regional solutions to our transportation infrastructure, which requires more investments to meet our ever-growing populations.
Both of these areas are multi-year goals. However, I will keep pushing to increase housing production and implement transportation solutions throughout the remainder of 2017.