U.S. Immigration Policy stirs up controversy and drives action among Michiganders.
Featured photo via Birmingham Temple Facebook
Immigration issues, favorable and not, have cropped up periodically in American history, according to Melanie Goldberg, legal director at Justice for our Neighbors Michigan, an immigrant agency of the United Methodist Church.
“Go back in time and you can see we have periodically welcomed immigrants and then had reactions against immigration,” she says. “The ebb and flow of immigration has to do with economics — internal and external — and politics.
“In the 19th century, the U.S. imported immigrants from China and elsewhere in the Far East to work on building the railroads. Then, in 1882, came the Asian Exclusion Act. The U.S. suddenly decided we did not want immigration from the Far East.”
Today, the federal government strives to cut immigration.
Steve Tobocman, executive director of Global Detroit, a nonprofit corporation that seeks to revitalize Michigan’s economy by strengthening local ties with the international economy, outlines how the Trump administration has worked to restrict immigration.
Contrary to the belief that federal policy primarily aims to restrict undocumented aliens, Tobocman notes policies that restrict other categories as well. Businesses have had increasing difficulty getting H-1B visas for highly skilled workers, though officially the total number available has not changed. Administrative burdens have imposed delays and increased legal fees on industries that depend on these workers for needs unmet in the local job market, according to Tobocman.
The U.S., by law and by treaty, has an obligation to provide refuge for those who seek asylum from legitimate threats. In 2016, the Obama administration raised the annual quota for refugees to be accepted by the U.S. to 110,000. Since then, Tobocman notes, President Trump has lowered the quota. Last year, the quota was set at 30,000, with 23,000 accepted. This year, the Trump administration has set a new quota, reduced to 18,000.
Other restrictions include the Trump administration’s plans to revoke the DACA program, which protects residents brought to America as children. The program is still in place for those already registered. After 2020, the administration has pledged not to accept renewals. Residents who apply for driver’s licenses or work authorizations face the danger of deportation for themselves or for their family members.
Tobocman, however, offers evidence immigrants benefit the regional economy. “According to research conducted by Global Detroit, refugees and other immigrants have added some $250 million to the regional economy in the past 10 years. A cut of about 75 percent in immigration, which we currently experience, promises to weaken our economy proportionally.”
He provides a long list of actions by the state of Michigan, by county and municipal governments, to welcome and integrate immigrants into the economy. Private foundations coordinate with the governments to provide funding for these efforts. “While the present administration has sought to close our borders, Southeast Michigan has become more welcoming and inclusive to immigrants and refugees than ever before — and has become a national leader in this regard,” he says.
Sara Allyn, executive director of Repair the World Detroit, a Jewish organization that encourages volunteer service, explains how Repair tries to help people who directly experience the effects of anti-immigrant policies.
“At Repair the World, we work closely with communities experiencing the immediate and terrifying impact of our current climate,” she says. “While there are many ways to take action as a Jewish community, Repair believes meaningful service, combined with learning and self-reflection, promotes action and change.
“By serving alongside impacted communities, we listen, learn and build relationships to truly understand what people need and how we might best support them.”
Rabbi Jeffrey Falick of the Birmingham Temple Congregation of Humanistic Judaism in Farmington Hills recounts that they have been working on immigration issues since 2016, with a big ramp-up in January 2017 in response to the government’s “Muslim ban.”
Birmingham Temple declared itself a sanctuary in 2017 and became part of the Sanctuary Network of Michigan. The congregation has sponsored a Syrian refugee family for almost three years, and it issued a resolution to resist the deportation of undocumented immigrants.
Regarding federal immigration policy, Falick says, “Nothing has changed — at least, nothing for the better. We have discovered even more children were detained than the government at first admitted, and more are being detained. ICE keeps looking for cost-savings in the already inadequate way the children are cared for.
“Things are as bad as they ever were,” he added. “Trump has put pressure on Mexico to keep asylum seekers without even letting them over the border into the U.S. The U.S. government has decided to charge asylum seekers to process their applications.”
The legal environment for pursuing asylum claims and for immigration status is convoluted and horrible, Falick says, adding that people caught in this system need legal help. The Birmingham Temple supports the efforts of Freedom House in Detroit, which helps immigrants with legal representation and with job assistance.
Meanwhile, some Jewish organizations support the Trump administration in its efforts to restrict immigration.
Dorene Weisberg, co-president of the board for the Michigan Jewish Action Council (MJAC.us), says MJAC “incorporated in spring of 2017, after witnessing what appeared to be a coordinated effort by the standard Jewish agencies to resist the newly inaugurated president and attack all of his policies and ultimately smear him with accusations of anti-Semitism.
“We decided we could no longer tolerate the assumption that those agencies provided the final word on the beliefs, standards and activities of 100 percent of the Jewish population, particularly on the local level, here in Michigan. We continue to believe there is a substantial Jewish population (at least 25 percent) not in agreement with those agencies, and we hope to be the one agency that can represent and be the home for those Jews here in Michigan.”
Asked specifically about immigration, Weisberg refers to the statements of a rabbinic organization, the Coalition for Jewish Values. Its vice president, Rabbi Yoel Schoenfeld, condemned the Obama administration’s policy “under which large numbers of illegal immigrants who infiltrated across the southern border in the U.S. were not prosecuted for the illegal entry.”