Michigan rolls out welcome mat

During tough economic times, we must take time to celebrate any victories that come our way. Last week marked a victory for our state when Gov. Rick Snyder announced he would reject any Arizona-style immigration law in Michigan.

I feel proud to live in a state that publicly recognizes my family and me as important assets to our community and our economy. The League’s report, Good for Business: Rolling Out the Welcome Mat, outlined the economic benefits of the immigrant population and how Michigan cannot afford to roll up the welcome mat. Luckily, the facts rang true for the administration and we can now take our name off the list of states with govenors that support anti-immigrant legislation.

House Bill 4305 would require state police to enforce federal immigration laws and request immigration documents from anyone they suspect of being in the state illegally. It has become clear that immigrants are not a drain on the economy, but instead increase our state revenues, start businesses, and contribute to a better-educated workforce.

Rolling out the welcome mat in Michigan improves our state because: (more…)

The Kresge Foundation awards $300,000 grant to MLHS

Contact: Judy Putnam at (517) 487-5436
March 21, 2011

The Kresge Foundation has awarded a two-year, $300,000 grant to the Michigan League for Human Services to expand outreach and capacity of the organization. (more…)

Rolling out the welcome mat

I want to continue living in a state that welcomes me and my family; we are consumers, taxpayers, students, and business owners. As a South Asian female and daughter of immigrant parents, it struck a very personal chord with me when the governor noted the importance of welcoming immigrants to our state during his State of  the State address. I see this as the first step to rolling out the welcome mat in Michigan.

However, Michigan has been one of many states that introduced controversial anti-immigrant legislation during the last legislative session. 

Based on a similar Arizona law, the bill would have required Michigan State Police to enforce federal immigration laws and request immigration documents from anyone they suspect are living in the U.S. illegally.

Heated discussions about immigration reform have often centered on the cost to the public and the services provided to unauthorized immigrants. But what is often left out of the conversation are the many ways in which immigrants contribute to the local economy and the potential cost if an Arizona-style law was adopted in the state.

Policies are already in place to ensure immigrants wanting to migrate to this country will not be increasing costs to the public. “Public charge” is a term used in immigration law to describe legal immigrants who are unable to support themselves and who rely solely on cash assistance as their primary income. Depending on his or her immigration status, a person can be denied entry into the U.S., re-entry into the U.S., or permanent residency if the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) believes an immigrant is not able to be self-supporting without these benefits in the future.

Unauthorized immigrants only account for 1.4 percent of Michigan’s population and 1.3 percent of the workforce, and do not have access to public assistance. They are only eligible for Emergency Services Only Medicaid, which is mostly funded by the federal government, and for Maternity Outpatient Medical Services (MOMS), a program providing prenatal coverage to some low-income noncitizens eligible for Emergency Services Only Medicaid. Legally residing immigrants have to be living in the states for five years and reach legal permanent resident status before they are even eligible for public assistance. Foreign students are never eligible for public assistance.

However, nationally, between one-half to three-quarters of unauthorized immigrants pay federal and state income taxes, Social Security taxes, and Medicare taxes through payroll deductions. Additionally, as consumers, renters, and homeowners, all unauthorized immigrants are subject to sales and property taxes. Nationally, undocumented immigrants contribute $8.5 billion in Social Security and Medicare funds annually and are not be able to collect the benefits. Immigrants also utilize fewer services; health care costs for the average immigrant are 55 percent less than the average native-born citizen.

Instead, they contribute to the economy by paying taxes, buying goods, going to school, and opening businesses.

For example:

• Michigan immigrants make up less than 6 percent of the population yet are responsible for more than 32 percent of all high-tech startups in the state, making Michigan 3rd in the nation for producing new high-tech business opportunities.
• Between 1996 and 2007, Michigan immigrants represented 15.8 percent of new businesses owners, making them three times more likely to start a business.
• Our state’s education system attracts many foreign students, contributing over $600 million a year to our economy.

If Michigan passed an Arizona-style law, the state could lose over $3.8 billion in economic activity, $1.7 billion in gross state product, and approximately 20,000 jobs with the removal of all unauthorized workers from the labor force.

Michigan has much to gain from welcoming immigrants. The more we understand and realize the many ways in which immigrants contribute to our state, the closer we become to being a prosperous state. If you want to learn more about the many ways immigrants benefit our state, check out our new report and executive summary.

— Anika Fassia

A shared language and history

The Transnational Labor Symposium, a series of speakers hosted by Michigan State University’s Julian Samora Research Institute and Department of Sociology, held a lecture recently called, The Unsigned Migrant Worker Rights Convention.

The focus of the talk was how only 20 countries — the United States is not among them — have signed a Migrant Worker Rights Treaty to protect this community from exploitation, deportation, and family separation.  The first half of the lecture, however, focused on the terminology surrounding the foreign-born population, immigrants in Michigan, and brown-collar migration.

Before we can begin to move towards a more inclusive society, implementing inclusive policies, we need to understand the importance of a shared inclusive language. Without one, we risk alienating and isolating vulnerable communities before they even have a chance to engage with decision makers and vital social services.

Academically, the foreign-born are referred to as immigrants and emigrants, in government, an alien, and internationally, a migrant. As for immigrants without proper identification, academics refer to this population as undocumented, the government calls them unauthorized or illegal, and internationally, they refer to themselves as nondocumented, or in an irregular situation. 

So what does this mean for policymakers, and advocates? It could mean that when we refer to immigrants as aliens, illegal or unauthorized, we are making the assumption that they should not be here, don’t belong here, or that the person is a criminal.

As for brown collar migration, Professor Beth Lyon, the lecture’s guest speaker, says it’s a description for fields dominated by immigrant labor—agriculture, domestic workers, construction, etc. She pointed out that nationally in 2009, 1.5 million temporary work visas were given to white collar migrants, and only 206,000 to brown collar migrants. Brown collar migrants are providing a vital service, services that are needed, and services that will escalate as our population ages.  

She ended the presentation by showing pictures of Michigan immigrants, immigrants from all over the world, all wearing ‘funny’ hats. Thus pointing out that in the end that we’ve all come from all over the world, and we all migrated here for a better life. So before we make any more decisions about who we call what, and who should be here, let’s revisit our history, and take a look at the facts.

Opening doors and closing wait times

The Michigan State University Law Clinic recently opened its doors to immigrants or refugees, providing free representation to low-income clients. The new Immigration Law Clinic has nine law students working at least 20 hours a week, representing 30 clients from 15 different countries. Representing 30 clients after only being open three weeks indicates the need for these vital services for some of our state’s most vulnerable people.

 Michigan has the third-longest wait time for processing immigration cases. The average wait time in Michigan is 515 days, or one year and five months. The longest average wait time is for pending cases in the Detroit Immigration Court.

Nationally, almost half of all undocumented immigrants entered the states legally, but their visas expired and they have not left the country. Year-long wait times make it difficult for them to remain in the country legally and not be separated from their families. MSU’s Immigration Law Clinic is one resource out there to help those caught in limbo, hiding in fear of deportation.

The needs of the clients at the clinic have ranged from needing a green card, gaining asylum, to receiving citizenship. In addition, clients have come to the United States for many reasons– to gain employment, seek refuge, or provide their family with a better life. Whatever the case may be, clients are getting the attention they need to remain legal, contribute to their community, and increase their quality of life, while providing real world experience for law students as they navigate a very complex immigration system.

According to a recent Detroit Free Press editorial, most deported immigrants do not have criminal records outside of immigration violations and, with an opportunity to stay here legally, they could have continued to contribute to their families and communities. 

The MSU Immigration law clinic is an opportunity to protect and assist undocumented immigrants wanting to stay here legally. Even though bigger changes are needed to ensure the safety of all immigrants, it’s good to know that there are resources out there in the interim.

For more information on immigrants in Michigan, see the League’s fact sheet.

The inclusive American spirit

Legislation to create an Arizona-style immigration law here in Michigan was introduced earlier this year. The Immigration Law Enforcement Act, Senate Bill 1388 and House Bill 6256, would require all police to enforce federal immigration laws and require them to request immigration papers from anyone they suspect of being in the county illegally.

Recent polls show that two-thirds of likely voters in Michigan support the controversial Arizona-style law to control illegal immigration. With such a large majority in support of this, it’s important to clear up some of the misinformation being spread about the impact of immigrants in the state.

First off, deportation of undocumented immigrants from the state would be very costly. A study by the Perryman Group found that Michigan could stand to lose over $3.8 billion in economic activity by removing undocumented workers from the labor force.

In contrast, the personal income of all undocumented workers in Michigan accounts for over $1 billion, taxable income the state desperately needs.

Second, undocumented immigrants make up only 1.7 percent of the labor force, compared to 7.5 percent of Arizona’s labor force, yet Michigan has an unemployment rate of 13.9 percent, and Arizona at 9.6 percent. Looks like a correlation between high rates of undocumented immigrants and unemployment is unfounded.

As the League’s fact sheet on immigration shows, arguments for increasing control over illegal immigration include increased crime, a drain on social services, and illegal entry by immigrants. These arguments are faulty.  Consider:

  • Native-born males are five times more likely to commit crime.
  • Health care costs for the average immigrant are 55 percent less than the average native-born citizen.
  • Over half of illegal immigrants entered the states legally, but their visas have expired.

Arguments against increased control reflect the fiscal benefits of legalizing all immigrants. For example:

  • Nationally, undocumented immigrants contribute $8.5 billion in Social Security and Medicare funds annually.
  • Michigan’s largest city, Detroit, has a 9 percent foreign-born population who contributes 11 percent to the city’s economic output.
  • Asian and Latino-owned businesses in Michigan produced over $8.3 billion in annual business income and employed over 60,000 people in 2002.
  • According to Global Detroit, one in three tech start-ups in the last decade in Michigan were started by an immigrant.

Being a daughter of immigrant parents, my family moved to the states to have more opportunity and create opportunity. My parents currently reside in Dearborn, home to the largest Arab American population in the U.S. This population alone generated $7.7 billion in total earnings in 2005 and account for $544 million in state tax revenue annually for the state of Michigan.

Our immigration policy makes it very difficult for immigrants to become and remain legal citizens. Barriers to legalization allow employers to exploit undocumented workers, a very vulnerable population, and keep immigrants from their families and investing in their community. Perhaps now, with the facts laid out, Michigan will see how much immigrants benefit our communities, by contributing to the local economy, creating jobs, and bringing diversity to our state.

— Anika Fassia

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