Tlaib at immigrant forum: Time to run for office

Sarah Rahal Karen Bouffard
The Detroit News

Detroit — U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib opened the 12th annual National Immigrant Integration Conference on Sunday, saying it's time for immigrants and their advocates to run for office.  

She told the crowd she was a child of immigrants, the first Palestinian American woman elected to Congress as well as one of the first two Muslim women elected to that body. 

"The majority of (voters who elected her) are fellow Americans that don't share my faith or ethnicity, and I still got elected," she said. She received a standing ovation when she was introduced at the conference. "This is the part of what is so incredibly possible in our country that never gets told.

"Enough is enough. More of us need to run for office. "My mother, for the first time in 43 years she's been in this country, is afraid of her own government." 

NPNA leaders with Congressman Luis Gutierrez and Senator Bob Menendez at NIIC 2018.

The theme of the conference, which runs through Tuesday at TCF Center, the site of the former Cobo Hall downtown, is "New American Dreams. More than 40 sessions covering topics such as the 2020 Census, education, health care, citizenship and building inclusive economies are on the agenda.

The conference is led by the National Partnership for New Americans and its coalition of 37 regional immigrant and refugee rights organizations. The event is co-hosted by Michigan United; Michigan Immigrant Rights Center; and ACCESS (Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services), the largest Arab American nonprofit in the nation. 

"Even in very dark times, (positive) things can happen," said Eva A. Millona, executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant & Refugee Advocacy Coalition, and a co-chair of the National Partnership for New Amercans. 

Millona said the "draconian" policies of President Donald Trump and his administration make this year's conference even more important. 

"America is the country of dreams, and for many it's becoming a nightmare," she said. 

Michigan Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist helped kick off a welcome session at 1 p.m. Sunday with Christine Sauvé, director of the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center; Nia Winston, president of UNITE HERE; and David Pitawanakwat of the Detroit Indigenous People's Alliance.

Gilchist talked about the need for broad participation in the 2020 U.S. Census. The U.S. Supreme Court in June quelled efforts by the Trump administration to include a citizenship question that critics feared would deter many immigrants from being counted. 

"There are more voices that need to be heard, there are more levers of power that are available to us that we do not yet hold, and it is our responsibility to do everything that we can to organize, to empathize and to fight our way to those levers of power," Gilchrist said. 

"That means ensuring that we know how strong our communities are in Michigan and across the country, by making sure that everyone participates in the census process."

Who is speaking

Immigration activists and political leaders will present alternatives to the Trump administration's crackdown on asylum seekers and other immigrants, including the separation of thousands of children from their parents.

More than 100 speakers are expected at the three-day conference, including local officials, community and national leaders.

In addition to Tlaib and Gilchrist, others speaking scheduled to speak are U.S. Rep. Jesus "Chuy" Garcia, D-Illinois, and former HUD Secretary Julian Castro, a Democratic candidate for president.

 Alexis McGill Johnson, acting president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, also was scheduled to speak Sunday.

In August, Planned Parenthood announced it was withdrawing from the federal Title X program, which helps fund reproductive health services to clinics throughout the country, because of a Trump administration rule.

Other local officials and politicians planning to attend include state Sen. Stephanie Chang of Detroit, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan; Detroit City Council member Raquel Castañeda-López; former gubernatorial candidate Abdul El-Sayed and Wayne County Executive Warren Evans.

Some notable speakers on local immigration issues: Amanda Alexander, executive director of the Detroit Justice Center; Hassan Jaber, president and CEO of ACCESS; Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights; Seydi Sarr, founder and director of African Bureau for Immigration and Social Affairs; Steve Tobocman, executive director of Global Detroit; Lindsay Toczylowski, executive director of the Immigrant Defenders Law Center; and Gustavo Torres, executive director of CASA.

More: 'Diversity clearly our strength': Wayne Co. touts contributions of immigrants

A study on the economic impact of immigrants was released Wednesday by Evans, who said diversity makes the county thrive.

"Without a doubt, the immigrant population in Wayne County is much more of a benefit to this state then even we imagined early on. It completely refutes the idea that somehow it's problematic," said Evans, who is scheduled to speak at the conference Monday morning.

About 164,442 immigrants lived in Wayne County in 2017, making up 9.4% of the population of 1.7 million.

Cultural influencers appearing at the conference include Manuel Pastor, a professor at the University of California, and Julissa Arce, a political commentator and national best-selling author of "My (Underground) American Dream" and "Someone Like Me."

"As an immigrant and formerly undocumented for more than a decade, I am excited to be in fellowship with organizers, activists and allies who together fight for the dignity of our community each and every day," Arce said in a statement.

Main stage sessions

•"A New Deal for New Americans" will explore strategies and policies at the state and municipal level and a "visionary" national framework.

•"Deep Roots: Lessons from the Motor City" will draw from the history of the host region, and centers around conference themes of "solidarity, strength and transformation."

•"It’s a Global Thing" will focus on migration, refugees, economies, climate and democracy and study what domestic movements in the U.S. can learn from global partners, and what shifting U.S. leadership means on the world stage.

•"Our Justice Journey" will celebrate the historic numbers of women, including immigrant women and women of color, making a mark in Congress, running for president and leading social justice movements.

•"We’re Not Waiting: Integration Victories & the Economy" will "shine a spotlight on important regional, state and municipal integration victories and strategies and our economy," officials said.

•"Winning the Future: From Hate to Hope" will provide a strategic view toward promoting pluralism and diversity in the 2020 election and beyond.

Find the full program online at

Twitter: @SarahRahal_