Michigan is a midwestern state known for its neighboring great lakes. It is home to nearly 10 million people as of 2019, with 7% of its people being foreign born individuals. The immigrant population in Michigan consists of a large variety of people from diverse countries of origin. Thirteen percent of all immigrants in the state are from Mexico, the next 11 percent are from India and the third largest group is from Iraq, at 10 percent.
Michigan’s immigrants possess high education levels, with 40 percent of the population having a high school diploma or college degree, as well as 4 out of 5 individuals classifying themselves as fluent in English. Only 20 percent of all immigrants in the country have less than a college degree, a significantly low amount in comparison to the 8 percent of native-born individuals in the state. In addition, 43 percent of all immigrants have a college degree or higher in the state, a large increase from the 28 percent of native born individuals on the same scale, according to data from American Immigration Council.
International Student Impact
International Students in Higher Ed: 31,408
Economic Contribution of International Students to Michigan: $1.1 Billion
Jobs Supported by International Students in Michigan: 12,281
Optical Practical Training: $7,840
Source: HigherEd Immigration Portal, Michigan
Michigan Immigrant Workers
STEM workers who are first generation Immigrants
Nurses who are first generation Immigrants
Health Aids who are first generation Immigrants
First generation Immigrant Faculty and Staff across Universities
Source: HigherEd Immigration Portal, Michigan
Michigan is home to 5,250 DACA recipients as of 2020 with 6,443 recipients having benefited from the program since its inception in 2012. Less than a thousand individuals are not at the age of eligibility for the program. An additional 3,000 more are unable to apply as they do not qualify for the education guideline, which required the applicant to have either a GED or high school diploma, according to American Immigration Council.
The HigherEd Immigration portal classifies Michigan as a Limited state in terms of inclusive in-state tuition and state financial aid policies for undocumented students. The Portal tracks state policies for undocumented students on in-state tuition, state financial aid, professional and occupational licensure, and driver licenses.
Undocumented students in Michigan universities can apply for in-state tuition costs, excluding Michigan Technological University.
An Undocumented Student Guide To College in Michigan
Aspire Higher: An Undocumented Student Guide to College in Michigan was created by a number of Michigan community organizations. The guide provides resources for undocumented students interested in pursuing higher education in the state. College cost policies may vary from school to school, but accessing college is possible.
The Michigan Immigrant Rights Center (MIRC) is a legal resource center serving Michigan’s immigrant communities.
MIRC represents all unaccompanied children who come to Michigan in federal immigration custody. They also represent children who have been released from custody and other children who may be eligible for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS). MIRC’s unaccompanied children’s team has represented every child brought to Michigan in federal immigration custody after being unlawfully separated from family at the border.
Wage theft and workplace exploitation exist in Michigan’s immigrant communities, affirms MIRC on their website.
“Weak state laws, current attacks on federal workplace protections, and lack of enforcement by state and federal agencies, [are the source] but also…our immigration laws and how those laws are used by employers to exert power and control over workers who assert their rights,” asserts MIRC.
Each year MIRC’s Farmworker & Immigrant Worker Rights team provides legal advice and representation to hundreds of farmworkers and immigrant workers throughout the state of Michigan. The team engages in targeted outreach and provides community education materials so that Michigan’s farmworkers and immigrant workers understand their rights. They also develop policy proposals that target the systems that allow for worker exploitation to exist.
MIRC’s team provides legal and policy areas of focus including:
- Farmworker litigation
- Worksite immigration raids
- Labor trafficking (including U and T visas)
- Wage and hour litigation
- Workplace sexual harassment and discrimination
- Non-citizens’ access to unemployment insurance and workers’ compensation systems
Farmworker Legal Services (FLS), a division of the Michigan Advocacy Program also supports farmworkers in the state. They are sponsored by the federal Legal Services Corporation, multiple contracts and grants, as well as private donations.
Bills Affecting Immigrants in Michigan
MI SB0433 – Drive SAFE
Michigan recently introduced Bill 433 on May 11, 2021 which would allow undocumented individuals residing in Michigan to apply for a state driver’s license. This bill would be similar to bills passed in other states such as California, New York and 15 others states that have implemented similar laws.
“Immigrants are a critical part of Michigan’s economy, touching a multitude of industries from agriculture and manufacturing to hospitality, health care, construction and more. The least we can do to honor their vital role to our economy is to permit them a pathway to a state identification card or driver’s license upon meeting certain requirements. This policy has proven beneficial in other states, as it has boosted local economies and increased public safety. Michigan must address this issue because it keeps Michiganders safe, which serves to benefit all of us,” said Senator Winnie Brinks, one of the main sponsors for the bill.
In order to allocate assistance and resources to the immigrant and refugee communities in the state, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has encouraged open lines assistance through its website. Through these online resources, these communities are able to apply for support and obtain the information needed for economic or informative assistance.
Immigration Bills, Titles, Descriptions, Status and MIRC’s position
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services also manages the Refugee Assistance Program, a federally funded program for refugees aimed to assist with successful resettlement. The assistance comes in the form of monetary and medical means for up to eight months after an individual is granted asylum or first enters the country.
This aid is made available through the MI Bridges app and is only available to those who do not qualify for assistance through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, Supplemental Security Income and Medicaid.
Michigan Refugee Assistance Program
The Michigan Refugee Assistance Program is a student-led organization based out of the University of Michigan that was founded in 2016 and has continued to educate student leaders to advocate for refugee resettlement efforts. The organization began working with the Jewish Family Services in its early days to provide direct resources for families that had just arrived in the United States. The organization has grown and continues to advocate for the rights of refugees and the push for better allocation of resources to these communities.
“Setting up a social security number, enrolling children in school, and grocery shopping for our new neighbors are just some of the many opportunities students have to help resettled individuals navigate a new and strange environment,” says the organization of their work.
Southwest Detroit’s Mexicantown can be traced back to the 1920s, when immigrants from the Mexican state of Jalisco first began settling there to fill industrial jobs. The town has been a focus of culture and entrepreneurship and is home to a diverse community. The town’s historical buildings incorporate elements of Mexican architecture and display colorful murals which honor Mexican heritage, ancestors, and the first generations of immigrants who came to this city, details Mainstreet.org.
A walk downtown is a visual and sensorial experience as the smell of freshly made corn tortillas, Mexican desserts available at local bakeries, and the variety of Mexican restaurants treat locals and visitors to traditional dishes such as Camarones al Ajillo and Pollo en Mole as well as carnitas, tacos, tamales, and Tex-Mex food.
Mexicantown showcases impressive murals and is undergoing a beautifying phase, as the town is planting flowers and trees, supporting the construction of a greenway and other improvements.
Supermercados—the supermarkets—also serve the community and visitors who come from all over the state of Michigan and Canada. These local stores offer a great variety of Mexican products, including bright vegetables, and fruits, meats, and other unique goods such as fresh cheese, hot sauces, spices, flans (custards), and frozen sweet fried plantains.
Museums & Immigrant Heritage and Contributions
El Museo del Norte
The mission ofEl Museo del Norte is to highlight the histories, communities and cultures of Latina/os in the Midwest. El Museo is described as a “site of conscience” that will not only highlight the stories of Latina/o immigrants who established thriving communities in northern cities like Detroit and Chicago in the early 20th century, but also offer a space to remember the hardship these early immigrants endured, particularly those experienced by the tens of thousands of Mexicans who were unjustly deported in the 1930s. El Museo del Norte documents the hidden histories of multiple Latina/o communities including Puerto Ricans, Cubans, Central and South Americans.
A Grassroots Vision
El Museo del Norte is committed to remaining a grass-roots museum, a place where Latina/os from Detroit and surrounding areas have a voice and feel at home. Is it also a training site for future generations of Latina/o curators, archivists, artists, performers, and museum professionals.
Michigan Latino Artists
Arab American National Museum, Michigan
The Arab American National Museum (AANM) is the first and only museum in the United States devoted to documenting and sharing Arab American contributions that shaped the economic, political and cultural landscapes of American life. The Museum also brings to light the shared experiences of immigrants and ethnic groups, paying tribute to diversity. The museum tells the Arab American story through the voices and experiences of Arab Americans.
The Arab American National Museum documents, preserves and presents the history, culture and contributions of Arab Americans.
“In alignment with AANM’s commitment to creating an arts sector rooted in justice, we are committed to ensuring a space that is free of racism, transphobia, homophobia, Islamophobia, ableism, misogyny, classism or other biases,” Anti-Oppression Statement by the Arab American National Museum.
By bringing the voices and faces of Arab Americans to mainstream audiences, the museum works to continue its commitment to dispel misconceptions about Arab Americans and other minorities. The Museum brings to light the shared experiences of immigrants and ethnic groups, paying tribute to the diversity of our nation.
The Arab American National Museum documents, preserves and presents the history, culture and contributions of Arab Americans. The AANM is accredited by the American Alliance of Museums; an Affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution; and a founding member of the Immigration and Civil Rights Network of the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience.
The Michigan Arab American Community
The Greater Detroit area is home to one of the largest, oldest and most diverse Arab American communities in the United States.
First Arab Americans in Detroit
The first Arab Americans to immigrate to Detroit were the Syrian/Lebanese in the late I880’s. The early wave of Syrian/Lebanese sold goods door-to-door as peddlers and sought jobs in the auto factories when Henry Ford, the pioneering automobile entrepreneur offered $5.00 a day.
The earliest wave dates from 1890 to 1912. As with the national pattern, the earliest Arab migrants to the Detroit area were Syrian/Lebanese Christians. The first Arab immigrants to Detroit were Syrian/Lebanese men seeking employment. Many of them settled and worked on the east side in close proximity to the Jefferson Avenue auto plant.
The first Muslims settled in Highland Park near the Ford Motor company Model T plant where many of them worked. The first Palestinians arrived between 1908 and 1913 and were Muslim. Chaldeans first came to Detroit between 1910 and 1912. Although some Yemenis arrived in the Detroit area as early as 1900, they established a real presence in the Detroit area between 1920-25.
Arab Americans in Michigan are estimated to range from 409,000 to 490,000 based on information from the Michigan Health Department and the Zogby International polls. In the Greater Detroit area, estimates range from 300,000 to 350,000, states Arabamerican.com.
While the latest Zogby polls rank Michigan’s Arab-American population as second largest in the US, after California, Michigan’s Arab-American community in Southeast Michigan still has the greatest local concentration (California’s Arab-American population is much more spread out). The Greater Detroit area hosts a diverse population of Arab Americans.
Arab Americans are believed to be the third largest ethnic population in the state of Michigan.
Among the most recent arrivals to Michigan’s Arab-American population are sizable numbers of Iraqi refugees. The majority of these refugees are Shi’a from the South and Kurds and others from Northern Iraq. They were expelled from Iraq and many of them found themselves in refugee camps in Turkey and in Saudi Arabia.
The United States allowed approximately 3000 new Iraqi immigrants to the US following the first Gulf War, however today it is increasingly difficult for Iraqis to immigrate, details Arabamerican.com.
Kimberly is an undergraduate student majoring in Political Science at UCI. She grew up in a predominantly Latinx community in Southeast LA and is the daughter of two Honduran immigrants. Having seen the obstacles that many immigrants face first-hand has inspired her to pursue a career in immigration law. She hopes to amplify the voices of those in the community during a time where immigration has become one of the most polarizing issues in modern politics. Making sure that underrepresented stories and voices are heard is important in removing the negative stigma around the immigrant community and she hopes to contribute to this change.