County Board supports legislation to further protect immigrants’ civil rights

Tuesday, September 10, 2019 - 5:06pm

In the midst of an ongoing discussion over immigration policy, the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners unanimously voted in favor of supporting a Michigan House of Representatives bill extending immigrants’ civil rights protection Wednesday.

 

As one of the largest counties in the state of Michigan, state Rep. Yousef Rabhi, D-Ann Arbor, emphasized how significant it is that the county advocates in favor of the legislation in order to garner more support statewide. 

“Washtenaw is part of the broader discussion,” Rabhi said. “We’re one of the larger counties in the state of Michigan and having our voice at the table as (the) state government has this discussion is extremely important.”

State Rep. Abdullah Hammoud, D-Dearborn, has partnered with numerous organizations across the state including Michigan United, American Civil Liberties Union and Emgage to introduce the House bill, which would prevent local governments from using their own resources to enforce federal immigration laws. 

According to Hammoud, the bill would not only make Michigan a more “welcoming state,” but it would also prevent distrust from brewing in the community and its local police force. 

“First and foremost, a local community police force does not receive any resources from the government to do the job of federal immigration officers,” Hammoud said. “So, we should not stretch an already stretched police force to take on new roles. Secondly, when police officers in the community start taking on the roles of immigration officials, they break the trust and bond they have within communities — largely within communities of color and immigration communities.”

Like Hammoud, LSA senior Leena Ghannam said they believe this legislation could be a step in the right direction to mending Washtenaw County’s already strained relationship with local law enforcement. Ghannam cited the death of Aura Rosser, an Ann Arbor resident who was fatally shot in 2014 by Ann Arbor Police Officer David Reid, as a catalyst for residents’ distrust with the local police force.

“I think that the people in Washtenaw County have distrusted the police immensely,” Ghannam said. “(Rosser’s) death represented a fundamental problem with police, not only because of their abundant racial and gender profiling, but also their willingness to breach privacy and act violently. The greater Ann Arbor area will develop a better relationship with the police if the police show that they are actually here to protect the community.”

In addition to the House bill, other prospective legislation include a bar on stop-and-search policies without reasonable suspicion, a bill that prevents immigration hold requests in county jails, a proposal to provide legal assistance to immigrants for deportation hearings and multiple proposals that would restrict state schools and universities from refusing admission due to immigration status. 

For Ghannam, allowing immigrants the equal opportunity to study at Michigan universities is essential, due to the state’s incredibly diverse population. With this education, she believes the state could help immigrants navigate the lengthy process of becoming a U.S. citizen.

“The University of Michigan is an institution that should give universal access to deserving students,” Ghannam said. “Immigration policy constantly shifts to what the nation and federal administration fears most at any given moment. I believe that undocumented students are innocent — they are not criminals. A safe pathway to citizenship can more easily occur if undocumented immigrants are allowed equal opportunity to study and work in the United States.”

According to the Office of Financial Aid, the University “welcomes the application and enrollment of undocumented students” and offers a pathway for undocumented students to receive in-state tuition. Additionally, advocacy groups like Student Community of Progressive Empowerment work to promote resources for undocumented students and build a sense of community on campus.

Despite local support, House and Senate Republicans have rolled out counter bills such as the “Local Government Law Enforcement Protection Act and the County Law Enforcement Protection Act” that would ignore local laws preventing peace officers or local officials from working with federal authorities regarding an individual's immigration status.

One of the sponsors of the bill, state Rep. Beau LaFave, R-Iron Mountain, believes  state officers have a duty to honor the federal government’s requests if an individual is wanted by the government.

“The problem in our republic is if one state says they’re a sanctuary state and says ‘You want to come here, so we’re going to give you a driver's license and be included in all of the benefits of this state, then the immigration laws of California are superseding that of Iowa, and that is not appropriate in a republic,”  LaFave said.

However, Ghannam said they felt it is the state of Michigan’s responsibility to protect the immigrant communities in the state.

“Southeast Michigan’s immigrant communities are vulnerable to so many other forms of discrimination, including U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids, poisoned water, limited transportation and job accessibility, and diminishing access to good public education,” Ghannam said.

According to an article in The Detroit Free Press, Michigan has the second highest rate of arrests of immigrants by ICE agents, with more than 129,000 undocumented immigrants currently living in the state.