immigration

Over the past year, you’ve probably heard of the controversy in Arizona, where the legislature last year passed a tough law designed to identify, prosecute and deport illegal immigrants. This was followed by similar laws in other states, including Utah, Alabama, and closer to home, Indiana. Court battles are now going on over whether these laws are constitutional, since immigration policy is normally seen as the responsibility of the federal government.

Many who oppose these laws say they intimidate legal immigrants and even those whose ancestors may have been citizens for centuries, but may vaguely “look Mexican” or “look Arabic.”

Farmers and growers in a number of states have reported difficulties recruiting the migrant workers they depend on, precisely because of such laws. Nevertheless, a number of proposed Arizona-type laws are being talked about in the Michigan legislature.

Well, Michigan does have an immigrant problem, but not the one you might think. We need more immigrants - lots more. Throughout history, immigrants have been the most productive, most industrious and most job-creating members of American society.

Here in Michigan, and especially in Detroit, they are needed more than ever. In case you didn’t notice, we were the only state in the union to actually lose population over the last decade.

The population of Detroit is in virtual freefall, with now probably fewer than seven hundred thousand in a space meant for two million. The best thing for our dying central city would be a large infusion of talented, hard-working immigrants.

Staff / Michigan Municipal League

Governor Snyder and other leaders talked immigration and Michigan’s economic future at a conference in Detroit.

Organizers say they want to change the conversation about immigrants and the economy. They maintain immigration is a key driver of economic growth.

DonkeyHotey / flickr

How immigrants can improve Michigan’s economy will be the topic of a conference in Detroit on Monday. And some heavy hitters – including New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Michigan Governor Rick Snyder – will be among the speakers.

Steve Tobocman is director of Global Detroit – which advocates for “pro-growth” immigration reform. He says critics’ view that encouraging immigration would increase the already-fierce competition for jobs is off base:

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

Activists and families packed a school lunchroom in southwest Detroit to vent their frustrations with immigration and border enforcement in that part of the city.

U.S. Representatives John Conyers and Hansen Clarke convened the forum in the wake of complaints about immigration enforcement near schools.

That’s prohibited by Immigration and Customs Enforcement policy. And Conyers says the head of ICE, John Morton, has expressed his commitment to making sure it’s enforced:

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

The Associated Press reports that Congressmen Hansen Clarke and John Conyers will hold a public forum in Detroit today on allegations of harassment and racial profiling by Customs Enforcement agents.

Michigan Radio's Sarah Hulett reported on some of the complaints last month, with some saying immigration officials in unmarked SUVs were monitoring people near a school.

From Hulett's report:

The Detroit office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement is under fire for what critics are calling aggressive and overzealous tactics.

ICE officials say they are concerned enough that they're reviewing a recent incident involving immigration agents.

But the union that represents agents is complaining that ICE isn't standing behind its officers.

The Detroit Free Press reported on a small rally organized earlier this month (June 11) by the Alliance for Immigrants Rights & Reform Michigan.

From the Free Press:

About 40 people rallied in southwest Detroit on Saturday to protest what they say is a rise in racial profiling and harassment by agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The rally at Clark Park was organized by the Alliance for Immigrants Rights & Reform Michigan. Some participants flashed signs to drivers at the intersection of Vernor and Scotten that said: "Stop Racial Profiling," "Stop the Abuse" and other pleas.

The Clarke and Conyers meeting is scheduled for today at the Hope of Detroit Academy.

United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement

A standing-room-only crowd packed a union hall in Dearborn tonight for a rally to protest what they call harassment by immigration officials. Hundreds of people poured into UAW Local 600 to hear activists and politicians discuss allegations of wrongdoing by Immigration and Customs Enforcement – or ICE – agents.

Complaints include warrantless searches, racial profiling and enforcement actions near schools and churches.

United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement

Advocates for immigrants are stepping up the pressure on the Detroit office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement – or ICE – to respond to allegations of harassment.

Late last month, Ruben Torres was driving home from work when he was stopped by an agent in an unmarked vehicle on the Lodge Freeway. He says he was not shown a warrant or given a reason for the stop. He says he was asked to show a visa and birth certificate.

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

Advocates for undocumented immigrants say the Detroit office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement – or ICE – is “out of control.” They say agents are ignoring the agency’s own guidelines prohibiting enforcement near schools and churches.

Ali Abdel is the principal at Hope of Detroit Academy. He says ICE agents surrounded the school last week, terrifying parents and students:

"The school was like a ghost town. People were coming to get their students out of school, they were scared.... They were calling, flooding our lines – is ICE in the building? Are they around the corner? And this is no way for children to learn."

Jose Luis is one of several parents who hid inside the school last week as immigration agents waited outside. Luis says agents in three SUVs appeared to follow him as he dropped his kids off for school:

"ICE should be following people who they have warrants for. But that’s not what they’re doing, they’re following everybody."

The Alliance for Immigrants’ Rights has a series of demands. They include identifying who authorized the enforcement action at the school, and disciplining those responsible.

user Fibonacci Blue / Flickr

Dozens of Latinos and Arab Americans joined faith leaders from around Michigan at the state Capitol calling on lawmakers to reject a House immigration bill similar to the controversial immigration law in Arizona.

The House Republican proposal would require police officers to question people about their immigration status if there is a suspicion that the person could be an undocumented worker.

Imam Mohammed Mardini of the American Islamic Center in Dearborn says a similar controversial law in Arizona has caused a lot of problems with how to determine who should be targeted:

"One Congressman suggested that you could tell an undocumented immigrant by their shoes. Let us face it – the police aren't going to be pulling over any suspected Canadians."

But Republican Representative Dave Agema says the intention of the bill is genuine, not racist.

"You're going after anyone who happens to be here illegally and they've already broken a law, that's why the police officer has detained them."

Agema says his proposal would save the state money in health care costs for illegal immigrants, but the protesters say it would cost the state money in additional law enforcement personnel.

Governor Rick Snyder says he wants to bring more immigrants to the state who have advanced degrees.

Efforts to attract and keep well-educated immigrants to the Detroit and Ann Arbor regions may provide stepping stones to a statewide program.    

Governor Rick Snyder has asked state officials to develop an initiative to encourage immigrants with advanced college degrees to come to Michigan to live and work. The Republican governor says the effort could help reverse the "brain drain" that hampers Michigan's ability to attract high-tech industries.    

Global Detroit tries to make the region more welcoming to immigrants. And Cultural Ambassadors in Ann Arbor aims to capitalize on the region's international population - driven in part by the University of Michigan - to attract international business.

Supporters say well-educated immigrants often seek advanced college degrees in science, math and technology that can be used to help launch new businesses.

Update 4:41p.m.:

77 people are in custody following a 4-day operation in West Michigan by the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement office.

Federal agents arrested the men and women in 7 counties; from Ludington south to Michigan, Indiana line. 

Khaalid Walls is with the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Office. He says they were arrested for their illegal immigrant status, but a few, he says face criminal charges.

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