Troy leaps past Dearborn as immigration hotspot

Mike Martindale and Christine MacDonald
The Detroit News
  • Troy’s immigrant growth has been significant over past 10 years, up 5.3 points, surpassing Dearborn.
  • Influx means changes throughout communities, from schools to businesses to government services.
  • Sterling Heights, West Bloomfield, Pleasant Ridge, Clawson, Shelby Twp. all saw gains, census says.

Troy has passed Dearborn as the city with the second highest percentage of foreign-born residents, according to the latest census figures.

Shweta Modi of Troy, center, originally from West Bengal, India, sits with her son Ayansh, 2, during Pajama Family Story Time at the Troy Public Library. Jinming Liu of Troy, originally from Beijing, joins the story time with his son Derek, 2.

The Oakland County community exceeded all other Metro communities in new growth of foreign born residents with a 5.3 percentage point increase since 2009; 27.7 percent of its population now hails from outside the United States.

The census figures show a swath of Oakland and Macomb counties is the fastest-growing home to foreign-born residents — from Troy and Clawson to Sterling Heights and Shelby Township — outpacing traditional landing spots such as Dearborn and Hamtramck. Immigrants are drawn by jobs, family connections, places of worship, vibrant ethnic neighborhoods and businesses that cater to their need for a connection to home.

(Mobile users click here for database)

Hamtramck still leads the area with 43.6 percent of its population foreign-born. Troy is next, followed closely by Dearborn at 26.5 percent, Sterling Heights at 25.2 percent and West Bloomfield with 20.2 percent.

Awni Fakhoury, 61, a retired Chrysler autoworker, moved to Michigan from his native Jordan as a teenager in 1969, first living in Highland Park, where other relatives lived. After his father’s death, Fakhoury and five siblings and his mother moved to Sterling Heights on advice of close friends from Lebanon who lived in that city.

In 1985, he and his wife, Sara, were married and moved to Troy, where they raised three children.

“My story is the same of most immigrants,” he said. “You move where you know someone. You work. And you move somewhere else for a better life.”

Michigan ranks 15th nationally in the number of foreign-born residents with about 637,000, according to the 2014 census data. That’s about an 8 percent increase since 2010.

The largest population of foreign-born residents is in Detroit, at about 36,000, but the overall percentage is lower than many Metro cities at about 5 percent.

The influx has brought changes to the communities such as English as a Second Language classes, school liaisons for foreign-born students, public library programs geared toward new residents, ethnic awareness programs and businesses catering to different cultures.

Troy, for example, where Kmart once piloted its global operations, now is home to H Mart, a Korean grocery, just a few miles away along East Big Beaver. In the same area you’ll also find a strip mall that features Korean and Mideastern markets, a Korean BBQ, a Japanese sushi restaurant and a Philippine Mini Mart. Nearby is the Indian-American Patel Brothers grocery.

Christine Sauve of Welcoming Michigan, which helps communities set up programs for new immigrant arrivals, said in general “most immigrants settle near their job or family.”

“They are attracted to cities that are already racially and ethnically diverse, with a variety of grocery stores and other cultural amenities,” she said.

Sauve said frequent concerns come from churches and mosques that notice their congregations are changing and want to keep them relevant for all involved.

“We had one traditionally Catholic church in Macomb County that instituted a Hispanic mass recently,” she said.

Sung Son, 44, of Troy moved to the U.S. from South Korea in 2006. Her husband, an OB-GYN doctor, was attracted to the area as part of a research program at Wayne State University, where he is now part of a physician’s group and teaching classes.

“Some of my husband’s co-workers suggested Troy as a good place to live,” Son said. “We had no knowledge of the area. Then found it had a Korean market, Korean grocery store and other residents from Korea.”

Putting down roots

The new data about population increases is based on an analysis of U.S. Census figures by The Detroit News. The figures are from two five-year periods of data, 2004-09 and 2010-14, released in December through the American Community Survey.

The estimates are averages is the only comparable data available for small areas and for most demographic information on foreign-born residents, such as their country of birth.

Iraqi immigrants primarily fueled the increase in Shelby Township and Sterling Heights, according to the census data. Dearborn Heights’ boost was people from Iraq and Lebanon, while Clawson’s increase was immigrants from El Salvador and small eastern European countries. Troy’s increases were primarily due to immigrants coming from India and Albania.

“The draw is likely other families who have successfully put down roots in the community,” said Kurt Metzger, a demographer and director emeritus of Data Driven Detroit.

“The first wave of an immigrant group selects a location,” said Metzger, the mayor of Pleasant Ridge. “They find it to their liking and urge relatives and others to follow. This then breeds social connections, a faith-based infrastructure and ethnically owned stores and restaurants.

“Settling near places of worship is often critical,” he said. “The Chaldean Federation says that most Chaldeans live within five miles of one of their 12 churches — a number that is double that of a few years ago.”

Taulant Kadiu, director of the Balkan American Community Center in Troy, said his group has developed educational platforms to help first- and second-generation newcomers.

Kadiu said the programs are largely being customized to the second generation for their personal development and integration into a new society.

“We are trying to make them familiar with traditions of their culture and also stress the importance of education to their lives,” he said.

The center services about 5,000 people from Bulgaria, Albania, Bosnia and Turkey, and new refugees from Syria.

Transitions for new arrivals

Ghalia Katranji, 65, moved to Farmington Hills from Syria 24 years ago, then moved to West Bloomfield and now lives in Orchard Lake.

“This is very close to the Syrian community and my husband’s family and relatives,” she said. “There is a community center in Bloomfield Hills. West Bloomfield is safe and the school district is highly regarded and diverse.”

In Orchard Lake, 17.6 percent of its population is foreign-born, mostly from Iraq, Nigeria and India. Farmington Hills has a higher percentage of foreign-born at 18.4 percent.

Troy seeks to ease the transition for new arrivals with “Talk Time” Saturday mornings at the Troy Public Library. The program helps immigrants with their English-speaking skills.

Library director Cathleen Russ said about 30 people routinely attend the two-hour sessions started about 20 years ago and she estimates thousands of people have been through the program.

Ruth Bengtsen, 89, who has volunteered her Saturdays for the past three years for Talk Time, said a recent session included participants from Egypt, Mexico, Jordan, Korea, Japan, Turkey and Italy.

Diversity a big draw

Area officials say jobs, schools and safe neighborhoods and diversity are what’s attracting many immigrants.

Clawson City Manager Mark Pollock said officials are proud of the community’s ethnic diversity gains — from 5.7 percent of the population in 2009 to 9.5 percent last year. “We have a niche of diversified restaurants, which appeal to many different backgrounds and cultures,” he said.

In Shelby Township, “Our new residents come here because of good neighborhoods, the Utica Schools system and beautiful parks,” said deputy township supervisor Brad Bates, noting studies show 45 percent are from European countries and 43 percent from Asia.

Sterling Heights describes itself as the “welcoming community.” It has two mosques, a Buddhist learning center, Sikh temple and Chaldean churches. But it also has experienced some of the downside of ethnic growth.

This past summer, citizens — many of them Chaldean Americans — opposed plans to build a mosque in a residential area. The city has two mosques and some residents fretted over increased traffic and changing the character of a residential area. The plan eventually was rejected.

Troy Police Capt. Robert Redmond said police training has increased over the past 10 years so officers can become more sensitive to foreign-speaking households, “many of which are understandably unfamiliar with law here.”

“You can encounter someone who refuses to permit you to talk to their spouse or children — they won’t allow it because they feel they are the only spokesperson,” Redmond said. “We have gone to homes where we have been asked to remove our shoes before entering — which we decline because it is against our policy.”

The department relies on more than 30 on-call interpreters when communication becomes particularly difficult, he said.

Dr. Rouzana Hares, 43, moved from Syria to Farmington Hills 24 years ago and has lived in West Bloomfield for the past 17 years. She earned a degree from the University of Detroit School of Dentistry.

“I moved here with my husband and it was important to be very close to the Syrian community and his relatives who were already in the area,” Hares said. “There is a community center in Bloomfield Hills and that was important.”

West Bloomfield was attractive because of safety, a highly valued school district and diversity, she said.

“I have been here 24 years now and have even taught dental classes and consider this very much my country,” she said.

(248) 338-0319