Washtenaw County funds programs aiding undocumented immigrants
Washtenaw County officials have allocated funds to support undocumented immigrants with a 5-2 vote from the County Board of Commissioners on a series of resolutions. These proposals will be funded with taxpayer money and are estimated to total about $135,200 of one-time expenses.
Two of the proposals aim to express the county's welcoming attitude toward immigrants, while the final resolution gives authorization to the county to fund the Barrier Buster program, which provides short-term human services support. It also aides the Michigan Immigrants Rights Center, which provides services to those struggling with the immigration process.
During a meeting on the resolutions Wednesday, Commissioner Conan Smith said the recent climate surrounding immigration has had negative effects on the community. According to Smith, local governments should worry most about “the intimidation effect these policies and actions have on the immigrant community."
Though the package of resolutions faced opposition, it was able to pass with the support of Commissioners Jason Morgan, Andy LaBarre, Ricky Jefferson and Kent Martinez-Kratz. Commissioner Martinez-Kratz and Commissioner LaBarre both expressed the primary goal of the resolutions was to aid families caught in the crossfire of immigration issues.
“Originally the resolutions were written up to support families who might be going through difficult times due to increased immigration enforcement, and we envisioned that the money would go to supporting them,” Martinez-Kratz said.
LaBarre also explained how the decision allowed the board to express their disagreement with President Donald J. Trump and his administration's sentiments on immigration.
“The package of resolutions allowed us to one, enumerate our position as a board in terms of what we thought of the (Trump) administration’s immigration policies, obviously the majority voted to express their displeasure with them,” he said.
The resolutions will allow the county to aid undocumented residents with issues such as deportation, child custody and visas, among others. The board, however, made it clear it would not support any instances of criminal activity.
Much of the opposition to the resolutions came from individuals who feared aiding undocumented immigrants would lead to a decrease in job availability. LaBarre, however, discussed the decision in terms of public health and how it would not just benefit the immigrant community, but all residents of Washtenaw County.
“We’ve had a lot of folks yell at us, ‘Well you’re just helping a bunch of illegals,' " he said. "However, if people are here and have a public health need but are afraid to get treatment because they’re worried about getting wrapped up in immigration action, then it hurts them and the general public, which is why this isn’t some left-wing political action, but instead a level-headed set of policies.”
LaBarre also spoke to the human aspect of the immigration controversy.
“What many people don’t realize is that if you detain or deport a member of a family who is here undocumented then you tend to leave behind family members — in many cases citizens — who suddenly have their world turned upside down and may need services.”
Martinez-Kratz explained the majority of residents in Washtenaw County supported diversity and wanted to help families who were facing adversity due to immigration status. He also talked about his excitement for the Barrier Busters program specifically because of the services it would provide each family.
Though the resolutions were controversial, both LaBarre and Martinez-Kratz believe they will help the overall community, especially those facing immigration challenges.
Washtenaw County isn't the only local community that has been trying to find ways to aid the immigrant community. At a Central Student Government meeting in January, the University of Michigan chapter of BAMN — the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration and Immigrant Rights and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary — called upon the assembly to pass a resolution asking the White House to protect undocumented students.
Art and Design senior Keysha Wall, a member of BAMN, criticized the outgoing presidential administration for its inaction.
"The safety of these undocumented immigrants is only promised under the Obama administration,” Wall said. “For Obama to know these things, and not take every cautionable step to ensure the continued safety of undocumented peoples in this nation is disgusting and inhumane. If he will not act on his own, then we must take action, in doing so set the example for him.”
Last December, CSG passed a similar resolution — authored by former CSG President David Schafer, former CSG Vice President Micah Griggs and former Chief of Staff Noah Betman, all then LSA seniors. The resolution was a joint-statement by members of CSG expressing solidarity for undocumented students and need for a continuation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival program, which allows undocumented immigrants to “apply for temporary deferrals of deportations and (for) work permits.”
In late January, University President Mark Schlissel released a statement affirming the University's commitment to protecting international students and faculty — a response to an executive order signed by Trump that banned immigration from several Muslim-majority countries.
LaBarre said although there wasn't always much local governments could do about issues of this size, he was optimistic about the resolutions.
“This issue has become so bastardized and overheated, it’s sad, and real human beings suffer when that happens," he said. "These resolutions won’t fix many things, but for a few lives in Washtenaw County, it will have a major impact –– a good one –– and a good overall impact on the community.”