Column: We need to advocate for immigrant-inclusive policies that have a year-round impact

June 30, 2022 10:29 am

Rally for undocumented immigrants in Detroit | Ken Coleman

June is Immigrant Heritage Month, which recognizes the experiences, achievements, and contributions — economic and cultural — of immigrants across the country. 

Our state’s immigrant communities are full of nearly 700,000 Michiganders who moved to a new country with courage and resolve, work hard for their families and help make Michigan a place we all can be proud to call home. 

To help quantify and localize the impact of immigrants on our communities, the Michigan League for Public Policy has released new fact sheets, which provide a snapshot of immigrants in Michigan and in each of the state’s 83 counties. In these statewide and county fact sheets, there are estimates of demographic data about residents who are immigrants, including breakdowns by immigration status and place of birth, in addition to trends over the last decade based on annual averages over a five-year period. 

For example, since 2010, there has been an estimated 16.1% increase in the number of immigrants in Michigan. This rate includes a 29% increase in the number of naturalized citizens and a 4% increase in the number of non-citizens over the last decade. The latter is a broad term that encompasses different groups like refugees and asylees, undocumented residents, lawful permanent residents (“green card” holders) and other visa holders.

The fact sheets also include myriad other data points about Michigan’s immigrant communities. These data demonstrate:     

  • Hundreds of thousands of children in Michigan are a part of immigrant families — meaning they have at least one parent who was born outside of the U.S. or were born in another country themselves–with 9 in 10 being U.S. citizens
  • Michigan immigrants have an outsized role as business owners (especially Main Street business owners), making up 11% of business owners and 18% of Main Street business owners, but 7% of state residents
  • There is broad diversity across places of birth and types of languages spoken among all immigrants in Michigan 
  • And there are disparities in healthcare coverage among immigrants in Michigan, when compared to U.S.-born residents, which are a result of policy and institutional barriers to accessing health care. 

The League’s fact sheets include three statewide policy priorities that relate to the data and would remove barriers for families, ultimately making Michigan a more immigrant-inclusive state: 

  • Ensure full language access at key state agencies for residents with limited English proficiency, which Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s budget recommendation to fund a Statewide Language Access Plan Program would support  
  • Extend health care coverage to 3,000 to 4,000 lawfully residing children (or “green card” holders) through the Immigrant Children’s Health Improvement Act (ICHIA) option     
  • Restore the ability for all Michigan residents to obtain a driver license, regardless of immigration status (as was state law until 2008), through the Drive SAFE (Safety, Access, Freedom and the Economy) bills (HB 4835 and HB 4836, SB 433 and SB 434).

These policy changes will provide more security to families, create more opportunities for all communities to thrive and better support economic growth across Michigan. 

Of course, the benefits of implementing these policy changes would be seen across the entire state, beyond Michigan’s hubs for immigration like the nine counties with over 10,000 immigrants, which are also home to the state’s larger cities. 

In fact, there are immigrants in every county in Michigan, ranging from less than 100 to over 160,000 residents — and 36 out of 83 counties are home to more than 1,000 residents who were born outside of the U.S. What’s more, policies such as providing driver’s licenses to all residents, regardless of immigration status, will benefit everyone on the road and our state budget, which impacts us all. 

Immigrant Heritage Month is an opportunity for us all to recognize and value individuals and families from different places across the world, who may have different immigration statuses, different races and different experiences from our own, too. 

But for year-round, sustainable change to take place, we also need to join together — often across those differences–and advocate for state-level policy changes to make Michigan a more immigrant-inclusive and supportive state for all families. 

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Simon Marshall-Shah
Simon Marshall-Shah

Simon Marshall-Shah is a state policy fellow at the Michigan League for Public Policy. He previously worked in Washington, D.C,. at the Association for Community Affiliated Plans (ACAP), providing federal policy and advocacy support to nonprofit, Medicaid health plans (Safety Net Health Plans) related to the ACA Marketplaces.