STATE OF OPPORTUNITY. Can Kids in Michigan Get Ahead?
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This special reporting project wrapped up in May 2017. Read more.

After the election shock, immigrant supporters in Michigan start preparing

Dustin Dwyer
Michigan Radio

For more on this, read our previous blog post.

The morning after the election, I reached out to a number of people I’ve interviewed in the past who are immigrants, or who work with immigrants.


It’s fair to say there was shock, some in mourning. Some worried for the future. One mother wanted to know how she can set up guardianship for her kids in case she’s deported. She’s been in the U.S. since she was a child. She now has legal status through the Obama administration’s deferred action program. But Trump has promised to end that program.

Lots of people who previously felt safe now don’t.


I also reached out to Susan Reed, managing attorney for the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center. She told me about a workbook, available on the Center’s website, for anyone who fears deportation under the next administration.


"It’s something no one wants to think about," Reed says. "But realistically many people do have to think about this."


The workbook, titled “Preparing Your Family for Immigration Enforcement,” includes forms for people to list emergency numbers, medical information, even identify a person to take care of your pets if you’re detained. There’s a power of attorney form to designate who can care for your children.


"In our experience, the chance for preserving family unity, whether it’s in the U.S. or abroad, really goes up when people have thought about what they would do if a parent were detained," Reed says.


The line between terrific and criminal in the eyes of the U.S. immigration system is a thin one.

This week, on 60 Minutes, President-elect Trump said his administration would focus first on deporting immigrants with a criminal record, calling other undocumented immigrants “terrific people.”


But the line between terrific and criminal in the eyes of the U.S. immigration system is a thin one.


It is not actually a crime to live in the United States without papers. It’s a civil violation.

But in Michigan, lots of undocumented immigrants do risk committing a crime simply by driving to work, or driving to pick their children up from school. That’s because Michigan doesn’t allow undocumented immigrants to get driver’s licenses.

Sarah Yore Van-Oosterhout is an attorney with Lighthouse Immigrant Advocates in Holland. She says driving without a license, or carrying a fake one, can get an immigrant into a lot of trouble.


"If they have any sort of false documentation, a fake green card, a fake drivers license, they shouldn’t use it," Yore Van-Oosterhout says. "That’s a federal felony, people get deported over that all the time."


Here is a point that’s worth making: the current Presidential administration hasn’t exactly been lenient when it comes to deportations. Data from the federal government show deportations soared under the Obama administration, and there are stories in every immigrant community in the state of otherwise “terrific people” who’ve been sent away.


Lots of groups have already been working to stop those deportations. One of them is the National Immigration Law Center.


Avideh Moussavian, who’s an attorney there, says one of the most effective strategies has been to focus not on the White House, but on local allies.


"Local elected officials, local communities – they have been crucial and stalwart allies in protecting their communities and really advancing policies that they feel are reflective of their values," Moussavian says.


One example in Michigan is in the city of Detroit, which plans to roll out municipal ID cards to anyone who can’t get official ID through the state.

There was a time when Michigan allowed undocumented immigrants to get driver’s licenses. That ended in 2008, but there’s currently a proposal in Lansing to reinstate it.

For anyone fearing what may come from the federal government, these local issues could make a huge difference for immigrant families.

Dustin Dwyer is a reporter on the State of Opportunity project, based in Grand Rapids. Previously, he worked as an online journalist for Changing Gears, as a freelance reporter and as Michigan Radio's West Michigan Reporter. Before he joined Michigan Radio, Dustin interned at NPR's Talk of the Nation, wrote freelance stories for The Jackson Citizen-Patriot and completed a Reporting & Writing Fellowship at the Poynter Institute.
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