Meet The Team
Nora Youkhana was born in Iraq and came to the U.S. at age 4. “I remember my parents struggling with the language and culture of a new country,” she says. Employed at Geoffrey Fieger Law, she started CODE Legal as a service to the community. Nadine Yousif Kalasho explains the history of CODE: “Nora and I graduated from Wayne State University Law School in 2012, and we both had a vision to help our community, particularly the refugee and immigrant community, with free legal help and advocacy,” she says.
Michael Steinberg grew up in a religious Jewish family in the Boston area. “Now I see myself more as a secular Jew,” he says. He is active in the Jewish Cultural Society in Ann Arbor, especially on the social justice committee. He has been legal director of the ACLU in Michigan for almost 20 years. “Given the Jewish experience in Europe and in the USA in the years leading up to WWII, it makes sense for us to be working for social justice,” he says.
Wendolyn Richards is a member of the firm Miller Canfield, a firm that encourages pro bono work on issues to fill gaps in the local legal climate. The “sweet spot” for Richards? “Immigrants’ rights because the due process rights of immigrants are under threat.” Richards considers herself a product of immigrants from Central Europe. “It is a core American value that we should not turn a person away, someone who faces persecution, torture or death,” she says.
Fellow Miller Canfield employee, Kimberly Scott, can trace her family tree back a long way to Tennessee and elsewhere in the South. “Of course, there must have been immigrants … but we cannot trace our family back that far.”
Bonsitu Kitaba’s father came to Canada as a refugee from Ethiopia. In Ethiopia, he was an activist who voiced opposition to the government, which put his life in danger. Her mother came to Canada from Guyana in South America, seeking a better life. “I always wanted to grow up to be a lawyer, protecting the rights of people who do not have resources, working on issues that have day-to-day importance in people’s lives,” Kitaba says.
Margo Schlanger is the Wade H. and Dores M. McCree Collegiate Professor of Law at the University of Michigan, but her work on this case is entirely separate from the university.
For two years, she worked in the Department of Homeland Security as the head of the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, appointed by President Obama. “I was chosen for the job because it was important to reform immigrant detention. I was brought in as an expert in prison reform. While I was there I gained substantial experience in immigration policy,” she says.
She is also a former board chair for the Ann Arbor Reconstructionist Congregation, and active in the Ann Arbor Jewish Sanctuary and Immigration Advocacy Group. That group’s website is WeWereStrangersMI.wordpress.com.
Chaldean Community Foundation
Martin Manna is president of the Chaldean Community Foundation, which provides needed services to the Chaldean community. It has two immigration attorneys and two other professionals working full time for individuals in the process of immigration and has helped process more than 3,000 applications.
The Chaldean Community Foundation is actively involved in efforts to protect Iraqi detainees, most of whom (120) have been released on bond. About 70 detainees in Ohio and Michigan remain in ICE custody. All still face the threat of deportation.
“After the presidential election, we anticipated our worst fears,” Manna says. The Foundation had a legal defense fund at the ready and retained attorneys from the Ashcroft Law Firm and Honigman Miller.
On June 13, two days after the arrests, the Chaldean Community Foundation hosted a meeting of relevant institutions and individuals and remains “up to the task of responding to the crisis,” says Manna, who has met President Trump’s Chief of Staff, Gen. John Kelly, and other officers of the U.S. government. He is in almost daily contact with Michigan Rep. Sandy Levin and is in ongoing dialogue with the ambassador of Iraq to the U.S.
Manna is asking the courts for Deferred Enforced Departure, which could be granted because Iraqi Christians are subject to a threat of genocide, both from ISIS and, unfortunately, from the Iraqi state itself. A Shi’ite cleric, a member of the Iraqi government, has recently declared that Christians are infidels and proposed that all Christians be given the choice of leaving Iraq without their property or of converting to Islam.
The U.S. State Department has issued a warning, declaring Iraq unsafe for American citizens. “The ICE argument depends on claiming that Iraq has stabilized and become safe, but our own State Department declares the opposite,” Manna says.
Manna is also asking for Temporary Protective Status because of the continuing threat. In addition, he asks, to where would these people be deported? “Christian villages in Iraq have been destroyed and depopulated,” he says.
Finally, he is asking that ICE release the remaining detainees under supervision. “Why should U.S. taxpayers pay for incarcerating these people who are not flight risks at all? They have families and businesses in Michigan; they have deep roots in the community — and they pay taxes themselves. Besides, they are the opposite of flight risks: They are fighting to remain just where they are,” he says.
Martin Manna is president of the Chaldean Community Foundation and Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce.
Economic Impact Of Immigrants
Steve Tobocman is the executive director of Global Detroit, an economic development organization.
Last year, it released two years of research with the Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan to document that in the prior decade of resettlement, immigrants contributed an estimated $230 million to $295 million in additional economic activity in Southeast Michigan, meaning thousands of additional jobs.
“We announced the study’s debut at the Chaldean Cultural Center because 90 percent of the refugees resettled into Southeast Michigan were Chaldean and because of the tremendous genocide that Chaldeans have experienced over the past decade,” Tobocman says.
According to Tobocman, immigrants come here to escape violence — often violence based on religious identity. They quickly become integrated into the community and their children become educated professionals. “The statistics on the Chaldean community are phenomenal,” he says. “I think the percentage of families owning two or more businesses exceeds 30 percent.”
Tobocman adds that refugee policy should be driven by humanitarian concerns. “My grandparents came to the United States from Europe from desperate conditions in Europe over a century ago,” he says. “If they had stayed, they would likely have been murdered in Nazi death camps along with their friends and relatives who stayed.”
He adds that refugees represent an economic benefit for our region. “The region cannot anticipate prospering without a growing population. And the only way to achieve a growing population is through immigration. According to the last two censuses, all local growth has come through (international) immigration, not through natural birthrate or through domestic migration.”
Steve Tobocman is the executive director of Global Detroit and co-chair of the Welcoming Economies (WE) Global Network. He is the managing partner at New Solutions Group LLC. Finally, he co-directs the Michigan Political Leadership Program at MSU.