Campus and city leaders reflect on immigration events in the Ann Arbor community, discuss action moving forward

Wednesday, May 31, 2017 - 3:59pm

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Design by Michelle Phillips

 

In the aftermath of incidents involving immigration spanning several months, campus and Ann Arbor leaders affirm a strong intent to protect immigrants in the area, in reaction to the new political climate created during President Donald J. Trump's first 100 days.

Earlier this month, the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners pledged $145,000 in taxpayer funds to services for immigrants and undocumented residents. The board passed three resolutions by a vote of 6 to 1 — one of which affirms the funding, while the other two prevent county officials from asking for an individual’s immigration status under most circumstances and ask Congress to modify immigration policy such that it “creates clear and reasonable immigration sanctions short of deportation for noncitizens convicted of crimes.”

The funds are to be split between the Barrier Busters coalition — several agencies that provide short-term support for citizens and immigrants — and the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, a resource for immigrants and immigrant advocates in Michigan.

In a May interview, Sara Cusack, an LSA alum who now works for MIRC said the funding will be very 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.”

In Ann Arbor, the city council is no stranger to immigration support either.

In an interview, City Council Member Chuck Warpehoski (D–Ward 5) reflected back on the work the council has done in recent months to protect immigrants.

“I think, in broad strokes, Ann Arbor is a diverse community and immigrants are important members of our community — both documented and undocumented,” he said. “We want to make our community safe and welcoming for everybody.”

In January, the council passed a resolution urging then-President Barack Obama to protect students who applied to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

Established by Obama in 2012, DACA allows undocumented immigrant youth, under certain circumstances, to receive a deferral from deportation as well as a work permit.

At the council meeting, Jessica Provinski, a member of BAMN — the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration and Immigrant Rights and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary — said she hoped to see Obama sign one last order before he left office.

“(Obama) must use his executive power to do everything he can to defend young immigrant recipients of the DACA program,” Provinski said. “If we are to defend each other and our society from a dark future, we must protect the most vulnerable of us.”

One day prior to the passage of the resolution, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the University Michigan chapter of BAMN organized a protest against the inauguration of President Donald Trump, specifically opposing his plans to change immigration reform.

The week prior, Central Student Government passed a resolution asking Obama to protect undocumented students by a vote of 26 to 4 with 7 abstaining. The policy, introduced by BAMN, asked CSG to send a statement to the White House in support of DACA students. A similar resolution, authored by memeber of the OG execuvtive board, had, in fact, passed CSG last December, though at the time only served to express solidarity with undocumented students.

Additionally, in late January, University President Mark Schlissel released a statement to affirm the University's commitment to international students and faculty. The statement was written in response to an executive order signed by Trump banning immigration and travel of people from many Muslim-majority countries. 

Despite all such measures, undocumented students at the University still worry for their futures under the Trump administration. In February, four undocumented individuals were detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement during a raid in Ypsilanti.

In a March interview, a female student, who asked to remain anonymous due to concern for the safety of herself and her family, described the fear associated with living as an undocumented resident.

“Every morning you wake up, like not knowing, especially now, knowing whether or not my parents will get in trouble at work or something, especially now given that there have been a couple ICE raids in east Michigan,” she said. “That’s always been kind of scary. It’s one of those things where you still are always worried whether you come home or you get a call saying this happened. You never know.”

Though Breitbart News recently reported Trump has no plans to rid the country of DACA as of now, activist groups and Universities nationwide still encourage the administration to preserve the program, according to U.S. News & World Report.   

Also in February, City Council unanimously passed a resolution directing the city administrator to review an executive order, enacted by Trump, which declared sanctuary cities were ineligible to receive federal funding. Amid the passage, a crowd of 50 protesters was outside the council chambers during the meeting, asking for a resolution to declare Ann Arbor a sanctuary city.

Though the city of Ann Arbor has not declared itself a sanctuary, Warpehoski said it has taken proactive measures to protect immigrants.

He explained local governments cannot impede federal law enforcement agents from their jobs.

“There’s a limit to what local governments can do, and if we were promising to provide sanctuary as a city to immigrants, that would be a false promise and potentially lead people to taking improper risks out of a false sense of security,” he said.

Warpehoski referenced 8 U.S. Code 1373; Trump’s executive order defines sanctuary cities as those that violate this law.

“There is a lot of backstory, in terms of constitutional issues and others, but the president has threatened to withhold funding for local units of government that violate U.S. Code section 1373,” he said. “That section says you can’t put a gag order in place that prohibits local law enforcement from talking to federal immigration enforcement about individual’s citizenship status.”

In April, prior to the aforementioned policy passed by Washtenaw County, the council passed a similar ordinance to protect undocumented residents, despite concerns over the risk of losing federal funds and vague language.

The ordinance prevents local police and city officials from asking residents about immigration status. 

Nevertheless, Warpehoski explained the City Council has made a point to focus on the relationship between law enforcement and immigrants. He said the council sees a community value associated with being welcoming and inclusive, as well as a public safety value — sending a clear message that they are leaving federal immigration enforcement to the federal government.

“As a public safety matter, we don’t want anybody not engaging with police, because of their immigration status — they’ve overstayed their visa, their roommate is undocumented — whatever their situation is,” he said. “We want people to not have that as a barrier to interacting with our local law enforcement if they are victims of a crime, if they are witnesses of a crime, if they know something about a crime.”

Most recently, ICE agents ate lunch at Sava’s restaurant on State Street, before detaining four employees. One was released immediately upon presenting his legal documentation to the agents — he had been mistaken for someone else — and three were taken to the ICE office in Detroit.

One of the three men will face trial for having overstayed his visa; the other two will have to complete authentication paperwork before returning to work, though are expected to do so, according to Bree Stilwell, the marketing director at Savco Hospitality — the group that oversees Sava’s restaurant.

In a statement, state Rep. Yousef Rabhi (D–Ann Arbor) expressed concern over the unethical conduct of the ICE officers.

“This is a very concerning situation,” Rabhi said. “It is unacceptable for ICE to remove a person from their place of employment without just cause. ICE has other means by which to check someone’s immigration status and afford them their right to due process without disrupting the activities of a local business. It seems ICE was intent on bringing in anyone whom might fit the profile of an undocumented person.”

Rabhi added such actions by ICE personnel “breed suspicion and prejudice” and affirmed a duty to protect the rights of all community members.

In a message to the Daily, LSA junior Zoe Proegler, the incoming president of the Michigan Refugee Assistance Program, echoed Rabhi’s concern and described the importance of the relationship between the government and residents.  

“The events of this past week in Ann Arbor should be unsettling to anyone who understands that immigrants have always played a central role in building this country and to those who believe that the government should interact with people in good faith,” she wrote.

Proegler also discussed immigration conflict on a federal level, saying it is sad to see people haven’t learned from the “ugliness” of immigration conflicts so far.

She said while she understands concerns over economic policies and weath inequality in recent years, she feels immigrants are too often blamed for such problems.  

“But when political elites choose to frame immigrants and other ‘others’ as the source of these economic and social ills — both of which are real and painful, I acknowledge — we are left with little but resentment, bitterness, and a terrified community of immigrants, both documented and otherwise, whose own greatness may never have the chance to become a part of America if our current leadership has its way," she said 

As of now, Warpehoski said, he has not identified any additional policies the council can put in place to protect immigrants, again seeing as the city government cannot overstep the federal government.

Though looking forward, Warpehoski said he is concerned about a bill currently in the state legislature that would, from his understanding, require racial profiling by local law enforcement. He said it would require law enforcement to ask about immigration status if they have any suspicion.

“That is going to be based on skin color and accent,” he said. “...I have serious concerns if that bill is passed will push our local law enforcement into racial profiling type of behavior.

He said similar bills have been found unconstitutional in the past in other states, so the efforts by state legislature to push for anti-constitutional, racially discriminatory policing policies is a very serious concern.

Warpehoski said he would encourage people to try to make their voices heard in Lansing on this issue if they are concerned.