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Silverio Lopez and his son Antonio run their Tequila Cabresto brand out of their house in Southwest Detroit. They say about 60 restaurants in and around the city carry their brand of small batch, craft tequila. They also own a rim and tire shop just down the street. In total, they employ close to 10 people.

Silverio emigrated from Mexico in the early '80s. He says there were many reasons for settling down and starting a business in Detroit.

“The properties were cheap, the rent was cheaper, plus we had family here already,” he said through Antonio, who translated from Spanish.

The Lopez family exemplifies the kind of people Gov. Rick Snyder hopes to attract to Michigan – people with an entrepreneurial spirit who can create jobs.

But some critics of the governor’s new EB-5 visa program say it’s a slap in the face to immigrants like Silverio Lopez, who came here with nothing.

Detroit's first Latina council member, Raquel-Castaneda-Lopez, speaks at a press event earlier this year announcing Michigan’s intention to establish an "EB-5 regional center."
screen shot from LiveStream

It's called the EB-5 program. It's based on the employment-based 5th preference visa program, which allows foreign investors and their families to get their green cards – get permanent residency – by investing in an enterprise that creates at least 10 direct or indirect jobs in Michigan.

Private companies have been using the EB-5 program to bring immigrants into the country, but Michigan has become only the second state – after Vermont – to create a state EB-5 program. It will be staffed by the Michigan State Housing Development Authority.

Scott Woosley is the MSHDA Executive Director.

*Listen to the full show above.

via Michigan United

Immigrant advocates in southeast Michigan have launched a push to make more people US citizens.

The New Americans campaign is on the ground in eight U.S. cities, including metro Detroit.

The area is home to large numbers of people who are permanent residents, but haven’t taken the steps to apply for U.S. citizenship.

Diego Bonesatti, legal director for the pro-immigrant group Michigan United, says that’s in part because the immigration process has become a lot more complex in recent years.

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A federal visa program called EB-5 offers a conditional green card to foreign nationals who invest $1 million in a qualified project in the U.S., or invest half a million in a depressed urban or rural area.

EB-5 is the cornerstone of Gov. Rick Snyder's strategy to attract more immigrants to Michigan. In fact, Michigan will be only the second state in the country to open a statewide center to attract immigrant investment and offer a possible path to citizenship.

The first state to open such a center was Vermont. 

Brent Raymond, the director of the Vermont EB-5 Regional Center, joined us. 

*Listen to the full interview above. 


Jesus Valdez is from Zacatecas, Mexico. He owns and operates a shoe repair store in Ann Arbor. His story is like so many others across the state. He knew his skill was valuable and saw an opportunity to make his dream of owning a business a reality.

Listen to our conversation with him below:

Peter Martorano / Flickr

Rick Snyder has been one of the most enthusiastic governors in pressing Congress and the White House for immigration reform.

He recently proposed a plan to attract 50,000 highly skilled immigrants to Michigan, essentially "rolling out the red carpet" to attract immigrants to fill vacant technology, engineering, medical and health care jobs in Detroit.

His plan would require immigrants to live and work in bankrupt Detroit, using their skills in science, business or the arts to help power the city back to health.

But some believe the governor's plan overlooks the immigrants who are already here, people who might be able to use a little of that support. And what about immigrants who might not possess an engineering or science degree, but have energy and an entrepreneurial spirit – are they being slighted by the governor's plan?

Here to discuss the future of Michigan’s immigrant population is Steve Tobocman, director of Global Detroit, and Nikki Cicerani, president and CEO of Upwardly Global, a resource for skilled immigrants.

Listen to the full interview above.


Update: The office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement issued the following statement to Michigan Radio," After a thorough review of Mr. Sanchez-Ronquillo's case. The agency has granted a one-year Stay of Removal." We are updating our earlier story now. 

Charlie is seven years old, a second-grader at an Ann Arbor elementary school. Over the last week, his picture has been all over facebook. It's also on flyers and email as his church and parents at his school try to organize around his family.

Read the updated story at State of Opportunity.


Read or listen to the entire story at State of Opportunity.

Governor Rick Snyder has signed an executive order creating a Michigan Office for New Americans. The governor has made attracting immigrants a priority as part of his economic plans. The governor named Grand Rapids entrepreneur Bing Goei to lead the office.

“It’s not going to be a large department,” said Goei, “but it’s really to be that clearinghouse, that focal point, because, again, we have activities probably in every department of state government involved with immigrants. This is to have a clearinghouse, a center for that.” 

The governor says he will do what he can to make Michigan more immigrant friendly, while he hopes Washington can come up with a better national immigration policy.

“I think there’s a lot of evidence to say, particularly for skilled immigrants, they’re net job generators,” said Snyder. “They add jobs, they create economic wealth and well-being throughout the supply chain.” 

Thirteen years ago, a friend who runs a political PR firm urged me to meet a man he saw as a visionary politician who he was going to be elected mayor and transform Detroit.

His name was Kwame Kilpatrick. We all know how that turned out, but nobody did then. What was the same then and now, however, was Detroit’s need for jobs and money.

Over the years, I had learned one thing: If you want to jump-start an economy, what you need are immigrants. Driven, motivated, immigrants who want a better life.

screen shot from LiveStream

Gov. Rick Snyder and Detroit leaders announced their immigration reform plan this morning at the Hispanic-owned Ideal Group in Detroit.

The plan calls for federal changes that would allow immigrants to live, work, and hopefully create jobs in the city of Detroit.

More from Gov. Snyder’s press release:

Detroit must harness the power of skilled immigrants to grow its economy, increase its tax base and reverse its population decline, Gov. Rick Snyder said today as he urged federal action on his proposal that increases employment-based visas for immigrants.

“We want the world to know that Detroit is open for business,” Snyder said. “Legal immigration helped to build this great city and is just as critical to its comeback. Immigrants create jobs and Detroit is a great value opportunity in terms of business costs and overall quality of life.

The plan calls for the federal government to secure 50,000 employment-based visas for skilled immigrants (employment-based second preference visas, or EB-2 visas).

The visas would require that the visa holders reside and work in the city of Detroit.

Gov. Snyder's office cited the following statistics in support of the plan:

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

DETROIT (AP) - Gov. Rick Snyder says he's launching an initiative to encourage immigration as a way of fostering Detroit's economic development.

Snyder's office says the governor will join Mayor Mike Duggan at a Thursday morning news conference. It says City Council members and business and community leaders also will participate.

The 10 a.m. event is at the offices of the IDEAL Group, a family-owned manufacturing and construction company.

Snyder has promoted immigrant entrepreneurs as a resource for Detroit's economic development. He said in last Thursday's State of the State address that he wants to make Michigan more immigrant-friendly and more attractive for foreign investment.

Snyder has applied for Michigan to join Vermont as states that run a regional center for the EB-5 visa program targeting immigrant entrepreneurs.

MIGOP / Instagram

Gov. Rick Snyder put services for immigrants and seniors at the top of his to-do list for 2014 in his State of the State speech yesterday.

The governor also promised to extend pre-school to every child in the state that wants to attend, and trumpeted the state’s economic recovery as he prepares to seek a second term.

"We are reinventing Michigan," Snyder said. "Michigan is the comeback state."

Snyder noted that hiring is up, and more people are looking for work — although Michigan still has one of the nation’s highest unemployment rates and many families living in poverty.

But the governor says things are getting better and the state’s improved budget position and the prospect of a revenue surplus is evidence of that. He said much of that money — more than a billion dollars over the next three years — should be used on infrastructure, investments, and savings. But he also said taxpayers should get some of it back.

“There’s going to be some opportunity for tax relief,” Snyder said.

Find out about the H-4 visa and why it’s troubling to many families coming to the U.S. 

*Listen to the interview above.

courtesy photo

This week I’m bringing you segments from my documentary, Voices from the Fields," a story of migrant workers in Michigan.

The Senate passed an immigration bill this summer that allowed for a path to citizenship for the millions of undocumented farm workers in the United States.

Some say if those people get legal status, they’ll have a chance to find better work. That’s exactly what happened to Gerardo Zamora. He would still be in the fields if it wasn’t for a little known immigration bill passed recently.

Emily Fox / Michigan Radio

This week I’m bringing you segments from my documentary, Voices from the Fields," a story of migrant workers in Michigan.

More than half of the roughly 2 million farm workers in the U.S. are undocumented.

Of those 2 million, 94,000 migrant workers and their families live and work in Michigan. And they have a lot at stake when it comes to U.S. immigration policy.

Back in June, the U.S. Senate passed an immigration bill that would provide a path to citizenship for farm workers, but now the immigration debate lies in the hands of the U.S. House – which has its own ideas, and they’re very different from the Senate’s.

For one thing, the House plan does not include a path to citizenship for undocumented workers. Instead, it would expand the guest worker program

courtesy photo

From urban farming in Detroit, the Traverse City Cherry Festival, to farmers markets in hundreds of Michigan cities, this state prides itself on its agriculture.

And we should.

We are the most agriculturally diverse state, behind only California. And after manufacturing, agriculture is the state’s largest industry.

But when you see that Michigan seal on apples and blueberries and cherries in the grocery store, do you ever wonder who are the faces and voices behind these products?

In this documentary, we’ll hear from these farm workers that bring these fruits and vegetables to our tables.

We’ll hear about the struggle for fair wages, good housing and how the immigration debate can affect the lives of the 94,000 migrant workers and their families in Michigan.

Below is the full audio of the documentary

State Representative Harvey Santana, a Detroit Democrat, thinks we need to make this a more immigrant-friendly state. He believes that could lead to Michigan becoming the leading state in the nation in job creation and economic development. Two weeks ago, something incredible happened that showed me exactly how right that is.

Michigan apple farmers desperate for pickers

Oct 5, 2013
MI Farm Bureau

The Michigan Farm Bureau is appealing across the eastern U.S. for help with finding workers to harvest the state's bumper crop of apples.

The organization sent "help wanted" postcards this week to more than 300 registered farm labor contractors, mostly in Florida and Georgia.

The Michigan Department of Civil Rights was created as part of the state constitution drafted in 1963. It’s charged with enforcing civil rights laws and preventing discrimination.

Leslee Fritz is the department’s interim director. She told a group in Grand Rapids Tuesday night the state has come a long way to ensure civil rights in the last five decades.

user JMR_Photography / Flickr

Fewer immigrants are choosing to make Michigan their new home, according to figures released by the Department of Homeland Security.

Last year, Michigan’s immigrant population dropped 4.6% — the second-lowest level in the past 12 years.  

That decline doesn’t fit with current immigration trends in the Midwest. Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, and Ohio have all seen an increase in immigration. Only Michigan and Wisconsin are experiencing a drop.

But while the number of newcomers coming to the state is on the decline, one immigrant group continues to flow to Michigan — Iraqis.

“Michigan is just second to California in terms of its attraction of Iraqi immigrants,” said Kurt Metzger, director emeritus of Data Driven Detroit.

When you consider all of the possible "fixes" being discussed for struggling big cities like Detroit, there is an idea being offered up that has truly stood the test of time: attract more immigrants.

It's the way cities have been built all through American history. Open the doors to people who are hungry for new opportunities, for a new life, and watch them pour their energies into building new businesses, improving their homes and neighborhoods, attracting more new residents as family members follow from the Old Country.

But immigrants are not coming to Detroit, and that is something Steve Tobocman hopes to change.

He is the director of Global Detroit. So far, they've launched over a half dozen distinct initiatives to make Southeast Michigan---and Detroit---more welcoming to immigrants.

Steve Tobocman joined us today to talk about the program.

Listen to the full interview above.

Entrepreneurship is on the rise in West Michigan. We took a look at what this means for the Grand Rapids area and the rest of the state.

And, when you consider all of the possible "fixes" being discussed for struggling big cities like Detroit, there is an idea being offered up that has truly stood the test of time: attract more immigrants.

Also, we heard how a University of Michigan professor is using archeology to tell the story of undocumented immigrants crossing the border from Mexico into the U.S.

First on the show,  Michigan now has the fourth highest rate in the nation of parents who do not have their children vaccinated for religious, medical and other reasons. Many simply don’t get all the immunization shots required.

Despite adamant statements from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the U.S. Centers of Disease Control that vaccines have no link to autism, an anti-vaccination movement is growing online, from parent to parent, and through activist celebrities, such as actress Jenny McCarthy.

August is National Immunization Awareness Month and physicians are mounting fresh efforts  to get more Michigan children fully vaccinated.

This vaccination push begins as the number of children falling ill with preventable diseases is on the rise.

We wanted to see how this story is being played out in the exam rooms of a busy pediatric practice, day-in and day out. Oakland County pediatrician Dr. Martin Levinson has been practicing medicine for 33 years. He joined us today.

It was the mid 1990's when the United States began an immigration enforcement strategy called Prevention Through Deterrence, or PTD.

It consisted of boosting security in unauthorized crossing areas surrounding major border cities with the idea that undocumented migrants would have to shift towards remote border regions where crossing conditions are much more difficult -- places like the Sonoran Desert in southern Arizona.

Two decades later, it's clear that PTD has failed to deter undocumented migrants.

The smuggling industry in northern Mexico has grown to serve the migrants, and here in the U.S., the movement to reform our broken immigration system is growing with bipartisan support.

But what of the life stories of these migrants?

That question has led Jason De León to apply his scientific training in anthropology and archeology to discovering the thousands of stories of these migrants.

De León is a professor of anthropology at the University of Michigan and he's the director of the Undocumented Migration Project.

Global Detroit

A report released today on metro Detroit's foreign-born population shows between five and 15% of people in Southeastern Michigan are immigrants. The study, conducted by Global Detroit and Data Driven Detroit, shows metro Detroit's immigrants don't follow traditional patterns of foreign-born populations in urban areas.

Sarah Alvarez

In honor of July 4th, we asked immigrants across Michigan what America means to them. Abdo Najy shared his story.

Abdo Najy has just recently completed his PhD and hopes to run his own lab soon. He's friendly, smiles a lot, and is animated when he talks about his research on breast and prostate cancer. 

Najy is modest and measured, but he knows he has a role in the search for a cure to cancer. He views his work as a scientist as his way to repay this country for educational opportunities he would not have had in his native Yemen. 

Born in Yemen in the 1980’s in the midst of a polio outbreak, Najy contracted the disease when he was just six months old.

Do you trust your government? What about your government? Do your elected leaders trust you?

Disapproval rates of Congress are at all-time lows - gridlock, and indecision. Can we change the dynamic, and what does it mean going forward?

And census results show a surprising trend: the state's male population is growing. We took a look at what's behind the numbers.

Also we spoke with Michael Narlock, head of Astronomy at the Cranbrook Institute of Science, about the best places to go in Michigan for stargazing this summer.

And Darrin Camilleri, President of the Michigan Federation of College Democrats, joined us to talk about increasing tuition and raised interested rates for student loans.

Also we continued our week-long series of stories from immigrants about what America means to them.

Today we heard from Linda Steinke, whose family came to the U.S. from Iran in the 1970s when her father had the opportunity to work in the auto industry.

First on the show, the group Keep Michigan Wolves Protected has filed language with the Secretary of State to put another petition on the 2014 ballot. The group wants to ban wolf hunting in Michigan.

If the language is approved, the group will try and collect more than 160 thousand signatures to put the question to voters.

Rick Pluta, the Lansing Bureau Chief for the Michigan Public Radio Network joined us today.

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

In honor of July 4th, we asked immigrants across Michigan what America means to them. Linda Steinke shared her story with us.

Her family came to the U.S. from Iran in the 1970s when her father had the opportunity to work in the auto industry.

Steinke is petite, with striking, honey-brown eyes. And these days she works as interpreter at medical appointments.

"I not only interpret the language, but I interpret the culture," Steinke explains.

Christian Haugen / Flickr

In honor of July 4th, we asked immigrants across Michigan what America means to them. A young woman from Mexico shared her story with us.

For some, the journey of getting to America can be just as challenging as starting a new life in the country.

“We walked here, basically,” a young woman from Mexico told us. “My mom brought me and my brother here when I was eight.”

“We crossed the border... and we just walked for hours and hours.”

Today, the 17-year-old lives at the Salvation Army’s Teen Parent Center in Grand Rapids.The Salvation Army asked us not to use her name, or the name of her one-year-old son.

bbmcshane / flickr

DETROIT (AP) - A Detroit judge says a lawsuit can go forward against federal authorities accused of violating the rights of Muslims at U.S.-Canada border crossings.

Federal Judge Avern Cohn says he's not ruling yet on the merits of the case. But he denied a request by the government to dismiss it Tuesday.

Some Detroit-area Muslims sued last year, saying they've been held at gunpoint, handcuffed and repeatedly questioned about their religion when returning to the U.S. from Canada. Some have given up on crossing the border.

Cohn says the government might come up with valid reasons for pulling Muslims aside for additional questions at the border. But he says that's not the key issue at this stage of the litigation.

cncphotos / flickr

This week in Michigan politics, Jack Lessenberry and Kyle Norris discuss Medicaid expansion in Michigan, immigration reform and how it could affect struggling Michigan cities, and the race for Senator Carl Levin’s seat in the U.S. Senate.