Q&A WITH WELCOMING MICHIGAN REP AFTER CONTENTIOUS WEST BLOOMFIELD MEETING
Christine Sauvé, Welcoming Michigan Southeast Communities Coordinator, answered questions that arose after the Jan. 25, 2016 West Bloomfield Twp. board meeting.
America has a long and proud history of welcoming newcomers. Many of our grandparents, mine included, came to this country as immigrants and we all have benefited from their contributions. The same is true for those arriving today. Immigrants and refugees give back to our communities in many ways and are great neighbors, friends, volunteers, and business owners. The aim is to create a climate where immigrants and refugees want to get involved and put down roots. This is a common interest for civic and business partners who want to retain talent and encourage residents to live, work, and play in the community.
HOW MANY MICHIGAN COMMUNITIES ARE NOW WELCOMING CITIES?
Eleven: Detroit, Hamtramck, Sterling Heights, Clinton Township, Macomb County, West Bloomfield Township, East Lansing, Lansing, Meridian Township, Kalamazoo County and Grand Rapids.
ARE YOU RESETTLING IMMIGRANTS AND REFUGEES IN MICHIGAN?
Welcoming Cities & Counties do not bring new immigrant residents to a community. Rather, the focus is on connecting residents to their neighbors and local government to create a prosperous community. Beyond fostering a welcoming climate, local and state governments do not have jurisdiction over where immigrants and refugees settle. Refugees flee persecution in their native countries and come to the U.S. through a process vetted by the U.S. Department of State, Department of Homeland Security, and the FBI. Refugees are subject to the highest level of security checks of any category of traveler to the U.S.
FEAR ABOUT TERRORISM IS REAL, AS IS DISTRUST OF THE GOVERNMENT. HOW COULD WELCOME MICHIGAN COUNTERACT THAT FEAR?
At the heart of welcoming work is connecting neighbors to neighbors and we often see fear dissipate when residents have a chance to get to know their immigrant and refugee neighbors. One of the aims of the Welcoming project is to build authentic relationships with immigrant and ethnic residents, and foster greater reciprocal trust and communication with immigrant and refugee communities.
WHAT ARE FOREIGN-BORN RESIDENT STATISTICS FOR WEST BLOOMFIELD?
The township, according to Welcoming Cities, is 20 percent foreign-born, compared to the state average of 6 percent and the national average of 12 percent. The township is home to 13,000 foreign-born residents, 66 percent of whom are naturalized U.S. citizens and members of the voting public.
WILL WELCOMING MICHIGAN TELL WEST BLOOMFIELD HOW TO OPERATE?
Communities themselves –– such as West Bloomfield –– decide their own local goals which range from enhancing naturalization efforts to improving relationships between residents.
HOW DO REFUGEES COME INTO MICHIGAN?
Local governments cannot block refugee resettlement –– it is a federally-funded and controlled process. Once refugees arrive, they are assisted by local nonprofit resettlement agencies like Lutheran Social Services of Michigan and Jewish Family Services. These agencies provide newcomers with housing, English language training, cultural orientation and employment services. The United Nations refugee convention was created after seeing the difficulties Jewish refugees faced during and after WWII. Many of these refugees made their home in Michigan.
WHO CREATED WELCOMING AMERICA AND WHO FUNDS IT? IS THE UNITED NATIONS INVOLVED AT ALL?
Welcoming America was started by David Lubell in Tennessee as a community grappled with understanding and embracing demographic change. The film, “Welcome to Shelbyville,” documents the story of the first group of welcoming leaders who built relationships with their new neighbors and supported their inclusion. Funders include the J.M. Kaplan Fund and Four Freedoms Fund, among other philanthropies.
WILL THE INITIATIVE COST THE TOWNSHIP MONEY?
It is up to the Township to decide if they want to invest funds in implementing any programming or policies. Many communities are cash-strapped and rely on key community partnerships or build inclusion into existing programs e.g. inviting immigrant and ethnic groups to participate in annual community clean-up that is already staffed or supported.