Urgent status of immigrant rights was focus of presentation by dedicated attorney


Attorney Susan Reed of the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center was a recent speaker for the Progressive Women’s Alliance


by Cynthia Price
Legal News

Susan Reed, cautions that “pervasive fear and confusion” currently govern the world of immigration, on the parts of both the immigrants themselves and of the law enforcement community.

In fact, her presentation to the Progressive Women’s Alliance on March 15 was advertised as  “Immi-grants' Rights in an Age of Fear,” though Reed herself called it, “Immigrants and Refugees: Respond-
ing and Welcoming in a New Era.”

The bulk of immigration enforcement comes from the federal level and, in keeping with campaign promises, President Donald Trump has issued executive orders resulting in major changes in the agencies responsible for immigration.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is ultimately the home for such agencies, though the Department of Justice operates two of the key players, the Immigration Court and the Board of Immigration Appeals.

Under DHS, there are the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, Customs and Border Protection, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the well-known ICE.

Trump Administration Executive ?Order 13768, called “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States,” increased enforcement in the immigration arena. It contains the controversial provision that “sanctuary cities” will be ineligible for federal funding. (A sanctuary city is one which permits residence by undocumented immigrants so that they will have less fear of deportation and therefore be more willing to report crimes and take advantage of non-federal services offered them to improve their lives and those of their children.)

EO 13768 also expands the list of “priorities” for deportation, basically making it mandatory for any and all crimes — even a traffic offense; called for hiring 10,000 additional ICE?officers; and required weekly reporting of crimes committed.

Its companion executive order,?EO 13767, calls for building a wall between the United States and Mexico, but also has provisions that may undermine the ability of states to do their own law enforcement.

Under Section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, DHS is authorized “to enter into agreements with state and local law enforcement agencies.” EO 13767 adds, “(c)  To the extent permitted by law, the Secretary may structure each agreement under section 287(g) of the INA in the manner that provides the most effective model for enforcing Federal immigration laws and obtaining operational control over the border for that jurisdiction.” This could be construed with the federal government attempting to override state law — of which the U.S. Supreme Court has always taken a dim view.

Neither of these executive orders should be confused with the “travel ban,” EO 13769, issued two days later, struck down by the courts, and reissued with slightly different provisions on March 6 as EO?13780.

As Susan Reed observed, the result of all this is that immigrants, both documented and undocumented, are experiencing high levels of uncertainty and are scared. Added to the policy issues is an increase in hate and bias crimes against people perceived to be immigrants, with which, Reed noted, the Michigan Department of Civil Rights is “deeply engaged.”

Reed said that Michigan has about 120,000 undocumented immigrant residents, and the Grand Rapids Metro area 15,-20,000. An even higher number, many of whom move around the country, are in the work force: approximately 160,000 in Michigan including farmworkers, a good percentage of whose labor is utilized in West Michigan.

Moreover, Michigan is home to about 5,000 refugees, those who are seeking asylum from dangerous conditions in their native countries and cannot return home. That number represents about 7% of all refugees in the United States, and West Michigan has more than its share. (EO 13780 halts all refugee resettlement for 120 days and cut fiscal year refugee admissions from 110,000 to 50,000.)

The local community has frequently demonstrated great concern for immigrants and refugees, particularly those of faith. In fact, the City of Grand Rapids has passed a resolution declaring itself a “Welcoming City.”

While there are obviously many shades of opinion on the matter, Reed and her organization the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center exist “to build a thriving Michigan where immigrant communities are fully integrated and respected.” MIRC is primarily a legal resource.

MIRC?Managing Attorney Reed received her J.D. from the University of Minnesota Law School and has practiced immigration and immigrant rights law since 2003. She was a staff attorney at Farmworker Legal Services of Michigan and a regional attorney for Justice for Our Neighbors.

One of the most salient points that Reed made was that it is not considered a right for immigrants facing proceedings in the Department of Justice’s Detroit Immigration Court to have legal representation. She and the staff of four additional attorneys work to address this, but she also urges people to get in touch with other legal service networks which are proactively providing Know Your Rights seminars and emergency response teams, and working on developing resources for representation.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan and the aforementioned Justice For Our Neighbors would be good places to start in seeking out this kind of opportunity.

The “Welcoming Cities” initiative is run out of the MIRC offices in Ann Arbor and Kalamazoo, with a West Michigan Communities Coordinator, Meagan Roche, available in Kalamazoo. Affiliated with the national organization Welcoming America, the Michigan effort offers a menu of options

These include expanding the number of welcoming cities in the state, resisting the 287(g) agreements and encourage “don’t ask” policies, and fostering Plyler statements and leadership from the schools.

The last is based on the 1982 U.S. Supreme Court Plyler v. Doe decision which struck down a Texas law that denied funding for education to illegal immigrant children as well as a school’s attempt to charge those children to attend.

Both welcomingmichigan.org and MIRC’s website michiganimmigrant.org offer more information, including a list of positions about pending legislation on the MIRC?site.