Washtenaw County allocates $145,000 to fund immigrant services

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Emma Richter/Daily

 

Monday, May 22, 2017 - 7:23pm

The Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners pledged support for the county’s immigrant and refugee populations last week, approving three resolutions which provide protections and allocates $145,000 to services for immigrants and undocumented residents. The resolutions, which have faced resistance on their road to approval, passed the board by a vote of 6 to 1.

Two of the three resolutions serve to declare the county as a welcoming environment for immigrants, bar county officials from asking for an individual’s immigration status unless absolutely necessary — similar to an ordinance passed by Ann Arbor City Council in April — and call on Congress to make immigration policy that "creates clear and reasonable immigration sanctions short of deportation for noncitizens convicted of crimes.”

The final and most controversial resolution appropriates $145,000 in taxpayer funds, with $70,000 going to the Barrier Busters program and $75,000 to the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center.

MIRC is a resource center for immigrants and immigrant advocates in Michigan, providing legal resources as well as community services. 

Sara Cusack, an LSA alum who now works for MIRC said the new allocation is “incredibly useful,” speaking for herself and not as a representative of MIRC.

“The grant that Washtenaw just agreed to give to MIRC… will hopefully in the future allow us to have an attorney who focuses on immigration matters specifically in Washtenaw County, whereas right now we serve all of Michigan broadly and have really limited resources,”  Cusack said. “We have to be very stringent about what types of cases we can take, and so what Washtenaw county is kind of saying by giving this donation to MIRC is that they’re investing in the wellbeing of immigrants and their community.”

Barrier Busters is a coalition of agencies providing short-term human services support in Washtenaw county for citizens and immigrants alike, though $25,000 of the total allocation has been specifically earmarked for immigrant support.

In early May, when the board had initially approved the resolutions, commissioner Kent Martinez-Kratz was especially enthusiastic about funding the Barrier Busters program, citing its support for families.

“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.

The possible deportation of undocumented Ann Arbor resident Jose Luis Sanchez-Ronquillo has become a rallying point around this very topic in recent months. Sanchez-Ronquillo, who is a father of two, was acquitted from deportation in 2014 but detained again in April after requesting a stay, sparking protests from the Ann Arbor community. On Tuesday, community action resulted in a federal judge’s decision to delay the deportation.

Commissioner Conan Smith, who introduced the resolutions, said community mobilization has been crucial in work on the topic.

However, support for these resolutions and others like them have not been uniform.

During public hearing before the initial vote, Northfield Township Trustee Tawn Beliger said placing the interests of the undocumented was grounds for recalling an elected official, adding that taxpayer money would be better spent on fixing roads, as reported by MLive.

Additionally, the resolutions have been framed in response to actions of President Donald Trump’s administration — the resolution which calls on Congress to restrict deportations mentions the President explicitly — which may be disagreeable to those who voted for him in the 2016 elections and support his policies. In Washtenaw County, this amounts to 26.5 percent of those who voted. 

Still, advocates maintain that making Washtenaw County a welcoming environment in such trying times is a worthy cause.

Margaret Rapai, an LSA senior and incoming president of the Michigan Refugee Assistance Program — which volunteers, advocates and educates on refugee issues —  said such policies are important to ensuring the United States stays a place of hope for immigrants. MRAP is not specifically involved with support for undocumented residents, but according to Rapai, the goals of the resolutions are in line with theirs by creating communal support for newcomers.

“The fact that the government is changing that perception of what America means to the world is difficult but it doesn’t mean that people themselves can’t continue to make a country and support communities that are welcoming to immigrants, refugees, anyone who wants to come to the United States to make a better life for themselves or for their families," Rapai said.