On Friday, December 9, nearly 300 advocates for immigrant rights gathered in Detroit to support a platform for dignity and demand commitments from local and state government officials to enact laws to protect the rights of immigrants in our state.
The meeting was convened by Strangers No Longer (SNL), a network of Catholics in Michigan organized by parishes, high schools and communities to respond to immigrants’ needs. The assembly was held at the new Carpenters and Millwrights Training Center near W. Chicago and the Jefferies Freeway.
Veronica Camarena, Vice-President of Strangers No Longer, and a member of St. Andrew Bessette Parish in Ecorse, says “Immigrants are here, they are part of our community. They make positive economic impact as family oriented, hardworking and helping their neighbors. Many immigrants prefer moving to one of the 18 states, which give them the right to drive and ID themselves for basic needs such as a hospital visit or filling a prescription. It’s time for Michigan to come into the 21st Century.”
The advocates heard from representatives of various Circles of Support including powerful testimony by a 42-year old immigrant mother of two who came to Michigan from Mexico 17 years ago. She was reluctant to reveal her name for obvious reasons. She spoke of her need to leave her home country in order to provide for her family and of her journey to Michigan. To this day, despite working to support their family, she and her husband live, work and travel in fear every day of being captured by the authorities and being deported.
As an undocumented resident, she acknowledged, like millions of immigrants who came before her under similar circumstances – from Europe and Africa – she cannot go home again to Mexico. “My life and my heart are here, with you all,” she said.
But her life is not easy. “We are living in fear. We have no status here. We have no paper,” she said. “We live and work and travel in fear because we do not have identification, we have no status.”
“Driving While Brown” risks racial profiling which could mean capture and deportation if local police turn us over to ICE or Border Patrol” – Testimony from an undocumented woman who has been in Michigan for 17 years.
“What is this like for us to be living and working in fear of deportation? What happens when people are living in fear?” she asked her audience. If your husband is beating you, you don’t report it to the authorities,” she continued. “If you see a crime against your neighbor, you keep quiet. You don’t report it. If the landlord doesn’t fix the furnace, or overcharges for rent, or doesn’t get the garbage picked up, we keep quiet.”
The assembly focused on nine issues in a platform presented to members of SNL led by a campaign to renew Michigan’s law to allow undocumented residents to be eligible to receive a State of Michigan driver’s license or state ID. Michigan once allowed undocumented residents to qualify for a driver’s license but 14 years ago, Attorney General Mike Cox and the Republican-controlled state legislature struck down that law. Today, 18 other states permit undocumented residents to carry a driver’s license, including nearby Minnesota and Illinois.
State Senate-Elect Mary Cavanagh will represent the 6th District next year. She introduced similar legislation previously as a state representative and is committed to see its passage in the coming year.
“I stand in support of the Drive SAFE package because these bills will help ensure that every resident in our state, regardless of their immigration status, can access what they need to support their families, ” she told an enthusiastic audience of supporters. “These laws have been proven to strengthen public safety on roadways and contribute to greater economic benefits after being implemented in other states. Correcting this misstep and passing these bills will ensure Michigan residents and our economy can grow stronger than ever.”
Having a driver’s license allows immigrants to drive legally, buy automobile insurance, do banking and other necessary tasks in the normal course of one’s life. It was noted by advocates that this state ID would not enable voting.
Roberto Torres, director of Immigrant Affairs and Economic Inclusion for the City of Detroit, was present at the assembly and addressed the importance of changing the laws in Michigan. “To me the subject of a driver’s license for immigrants is personal. As a child growing up in Ohio, I witnessed my father having to travel to Adrian, Michigan to obtain his driver’s license. It was good policy then for all drivers to be licensed and insured. Why is it no longer good policy?” he asked.
‘Secondly, every law enforcement official I have questioned on this subject matter supports a license for all on the grounds of self-identification, educated drivers, and public safety. Lastly, I have worked with many businesses, entrepreneurs and farmers who support a driver’s license for all because it is sound economic and good public policy,” Torres concluded.
Other issues in the platform highlighted during the assembly included mental health needs of immigrants, and the need for more cities and municipalities to be more “welcoming” in their policies toward immigrants.
The Platform for Dignity includes nine Issue Statements including 1. Ability to Drive; 2. Identification; 3. Government Services; 4. Legal Support; 5. Employment; 6. Health/Mental Health; 7. Housing; 8. Schools; 9. Police Interaction
The assembly ended with a call to action by program organizers challenging everyone present to contact their local government officials to urge their support for the platform and in particular for the passage of bills in the State House and Senate to provide the ability to get a Michigan driver’s license or state ID without proof of permanent residency.
For more information about Strangers No Longer, visit www.strangersnolonger.org