Although the census numbers released last week don't note it, local officials and experts say a rising tide of immigrants from the Arab world and their growing families have played a role in helping the city hold its demographic ground.
Dearborn recorded an ever-so-slight population increase, climbing from 97,775 to 98,153 people, or 0.5 percent. The other 17 cities that border Detroit lost people, and the city itself saw its population drop by a staggering 25 percent. Michigan was the only state to lose population between 2000 and 2010.
"It's stability, and in this time that's the key thing," said Dearborn Mayor Jack O'Reilly.
O'Reilly said at least 30 percent of the city was of Middle Eastern heritage in 2000, and that's likely "a good bit higher" a decade later. Their large families are a big factor in the growth: In that time, the school district has increased enrollment from 17,000 to 18,500, while figures show the number of households decreased by 6.6 percent.
"The percentage of people from the Middle East in the school district is much higher than the general population," O'Reilly said. "More people who happen to be of Middle Eastern descent are school age."
According to research by the Detroit Arab American Study Team, composed of University of Michigan researchers and others, more than 60 percent of students in Dearborn's public schools are Arab-American.
Sally Howell, a study team member and University of Michigan-Dearborn history professor, said while 2010 statistics for people of Arab descent are not available yet, it's clear that at least some of the city's population growth can be attributed to them. As of 2007, the Detroit area's Arab and Chaldean populations hovered around 157,000, according to the Census' American Community Survey.
"Throughout the past decade we have seen Arab, Chaldean and Muslim numbers for the metro area rise significantly," she said, adding the community survey estimated the Arab and Chaldean populations could rise by as much as 70,000 by 2010.
"That's a significant number for a decade in which immigration was roughly frozen for a year and the number of visa over-stayers has been significantly reduced," she said.
Dearborn is instantly recognizable as a Middle Eastern hub, with its national Arab-American museum and many Arabic-signed businesses and mosques. One Islamic house of worship in the city — strategically built near a sprawling, historic Ford plant — is more than 70 years old.
That sustained history helps explain why people from the Arab world continue to come to Dearborn, even as many other ethnic enclaves in the city and elsewhere have moved on or died out, O'Reilly said. While some Arabs migrate as all ethnicities do, a critical mass remains to welcome newcomers.
"Part of it is Arab-Americans are family oriented," said Warren David, founder and publisher of ArabDetroit.com, owner of a Dearborn-based public relations and marketing firm and third-generation Arab-American. "There's a sense of culture and family — that's so important in the Arab model. .... They want to live near relatives, they want to interact."
Still, Dearborn's distinction as a center of Middle Eastern faith and culture doesn't come without strife.
O'Reilly defended his city last year after Nevada U.S. Senate candidate Sharron Angle told supporters that the country needs to address a "militant terrorist situation" that has allowed Islamic religious law to take hold in Dearborn. Hackles were raised again in the city this month when U.S. Rep. Peter King held a Capitol Hill hearing on concerns of radicalization among U.S. Muslims.
"No one here has lived under any law but our good old U.S. Constitution and state constitution," O'Reilly said. "People from the Middle East are part of this community. There's never a second thought — they're involved in everything we do."
State demographer Ken Darga said Dearborn's numbers offer some encouragement for the community in an area that has been hammered by a long, painful economic slump.
"It's a bit of positive news in an area where there isn't very positive news," he said.