For several years, MML has talked about the importance of eight asset areas that help communities succeed and prosper in the 21st century. One of those critical assets is being a “welcoming” community; recognizing that our global economy is fueled by the talent and ingenuity of people not only born here, but from around the world. Last year’s research by Public Sector Consultants on behalf of the League found that:
- Foreign-born workers and students have positive effects on “local employment, levels of educational attainment, populations, and incomes”
- Communities with more foreign-born residents see greater capital investment;
- Communities with more foreign-born workers—whether permanent or temporary—see higher employment for native-born workers as well; and
- Foreign-born students attending Michigan colleges are three times as likely to stay in Michigan post-graduation as out-of-state students, creating long-term economic benefits for the communities they locate in.
From Corktown to Mexicantown, southwest Detroit shows off its residents’ origins.
The question of being welcoming to immigration is also a factor in statewide economic prosperity. In his State of the State address, Governor Snyder laid out a goal of returning Michigan to 10 million people by 2020. Michigan Radio has noted that we’re on track to hit that target, but that our state’s economy depends on adding people in the labor force, not just to the total—if our population growth is only among retirees, parts of our state risk stalling out their economic recovery as they run out of workers, while others continue to miss out on any recovery altogether.
As it stands, Michigan Radio cited Lou Glazer of Michigan Future Inc. as explaining,
[under the status quo] that growth will largely be in older Michigan citizens who are retiring. “The challenge is growing the working age population – that’s really where we’re going to have trouble at the moment. We’ve got more people leaving the labor market than entering the labor market, so if we’re going to focus on population it really needs to be focused on working age population,” Glazer explained.
There are basically two ways to do that. The first: attract young career starters. The second: immigrants from other countries settling here.
The League’s own placemaking work has most vocally focused on the first of these two factors, stemming the “brain drain” rate of young residents with college degrees leaving the state. But recognizing the economic importance of this global diversity, many of our communities have passed policies or implemented programs over the years to help make their communities more welcoming to all people.
In recent weeks and days, the conversation around these policies has picked up as communities are evaluating how their local policies intersect with their residents’ immigrant status, and there has been increasing media coverage of some of the policies our cities and villages have adopted or are considering related to being a welcoming community, particularly to immigrants.
Communities prioritize local public safety over immigration status
Most recently, the city of Ypsilanti has made headlines for a “don’t ask” ordinance under consideration that would “bar city officials and police from asking about a person’s immigration status. Exceptions would include hiring processes, or when immigration status is relevant to a criminal investigation or government program eligibility,” as Michigan Radio summarizes. Ann Arbor has a similar ordinance dating to 2003, and Detroit and Hamtramck have ordinances from 2008 to this effect.
An Ypsilanti mural by teens from the Washtenaw Interfaith Council on Immigrant Rights illustrates their experiences and struggles. (Photo by A2 Awesome Foundation)
In each case, the cities have cited the contributions that foreign-born residents make to their communities. But, in addition, they say that having city officials focus on immigration status during unrelated interactions can create an atmosphere of distrust or fear that actually worsens public safety—even visa or green card holders can feel intimidated or threatened by having their status brought up without cause.
Washtenaw County Sheriff Jerry Clayton explained his own department’s policy this way to MLive,
“Our mission is to help keep a safe and secure community, so we believe we most effectively do that by identifying criminal behavior,” he said…
The Sheriff’s Office’s policy of not worrying about immigration status, similar to the city of Ann Arbor’s policy, is intended to foster cooperative relationships between local law enforcement and immigrants who otherwise might be reluctant to report crimes if they had to fear their own legal status might be questioned.
When local law enforcement decides to get involved in federal immigration matters, Clayton said, it tears at the relationship to the community, and immigrants go deeper into the shadows and become more susceptible to predators who might also prey on other citizens.
Whether it’s in encouraging witnesses to report crimes, or making sure properties meet building and fire safety codes, these local governments believe asking about immigration status is both irrelevant and could have a chilling effect that hurts the community. Even legal residents, they say, could be discouraged from coming forward if they fear being profiled as immigrants.
With regards to federal and state actions regarding “sanctuary cities,” however, several of these cities have specifically denied that label, saying that term suggests a disobedience of federal laws that their local policies neither promise nor deliver.
Tools available to local governments
The League has received several inquiries from members about policies related to diversity, welcoming and immigration. In response to these requests, we have compiled these examples of policies from several Michigan communities that may be of interest to members:
We have not evaluated the merit of these types policies or the impacts relative to state or federal law. Each community has different needs and should consider what policy and program options best help them become welcoming places. As always the League encourages our members to consult their municipal attorney when considering adoption of any local ordinance.