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"We don't deport anybody. American law deports people," said Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly during his visit to Detroit on Monday, March 27, 2017.

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Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly visited Detroit on Monday in part to allay fears from local Hispanics and Muslims about President Donald Trump’s immigration policies, but the results were mixed.

Local immigration advocates said they appreciated the chance to air their concerns with Kelly, but didn’t indicate whether the multiple meetings quelled their fears. One Arab-American leader said he was “blackballed” from meetings that Kelly and U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, had with community members at the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn.

“No one is targeted, regardless of what unfortunately gets reported sometimes,” Kelly said. “Every single time a foreigner or American citizen comes into this country — and there are millions every day — they generally move straight through the process. A very tiny number are set aside for additional screening. That’s not based on religion, color or politics, and I reject anyone who makes that claim.

“The conversation today revolved around ... how ... we look very, very hard at terrorism (and) terrorist initiatives. ... Generally speaking, I think they were most interested in hearing from someone who has this job and makes no distinction between race, color and politics. It’s all about protecting America.”

Susan Reed, managing attorney for the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center in Kalamazoo, attended one of Monday’s meetings and said she hopes Kelly will take her organization’s concerns seriously.

“One of our major concerns is people being detained far away from their homes,” Reed said. “Some who were detained in the recent cockfighting raid (in southwest Detroit), even though there was no criminal prosecution at all, they were taken to Youngstown, Ohio. Secretary Kelly told us people would continue to be detained wherever there were beds available, which I understand.”

Reed also said she hopes for better communication and a smoother roll-out of policies in the future.

Kary Moss, executive director at ACLU of Michigan, said she appreciated the opportunity to share concerns but those were not allayed during the meeting.

“While Secretary Kelly assured us that the department would continue to respect sensitive locations like schools from immigration enforcement, it is not clear whether he fully appreciates how immigration enforcement operates in practice, particularly as it affects people’s ability to get counsel or the impact on children and families,” she said. “We also expressed concern about the impact of escalated enforcement on the courts and conditions in detention centers and the department’s expanded definition of ‘criminal.’ ”

Nasser Beydoun, chairman of the Arab-American Civil Rights League, claimed he was excluded from Monday’s meeting with Muslim leaders after being on Peters’ guest list.

“Maybe they didn’t want anyone there who was going to criticize (the Trump administration). But I wear it as a badge of honor,” he said.

Beydoun said his organization was represented at the meeting by civil rights attorney Nabih Ayad, who founded the group.

Ayad said he was disappointed he didn’t receive a clear answer about learning about what countries travelers are detained from or subjected to more questioning. “There was a lot of resistance from even hearing what we have to say. That’s very concerning to me as a civil rights attorney because this community is under attack,” he said. “There’s a lot of anxiety in the community.”

Steve Tobocman, executive director of Global Detroit, a nonprofit that works to help grow the economy through integrating immigrants, attended one of the meetings.

The small group of invitees had little time to “fully hash out all of the intricacies” of potential impacts on the community, he said, but “we were able to vocalize some of the concerns international students and businesses have and encourage the secretary to consider those issues when implementing” policies.

Tobocman hoped to relay how important the foreign-born are to the local economy.

“When you see reports about Canadian nurses being stopped at the border, when you see less activity in the community — that is an economic issue,” he said. “That is an issue that could jeopardize the future of neighborhoods in the city.”

Orders elicit concerns

Kelly’s visit came amid the Trump administration’s efforts to beef up border security, although most of the focus has been on the southern border, where a construction of a security wall or fence is planned.

Earlier this month, federal judges in Hawaii and Maryland put Trump’s revised travel ban on immigrants from six Muslim-majority countries including Iran, Syria and Sudan on hold. Trump has said his administration will appeal the restraining orders.

In federal court in Detroit, the Arab-American Civil Rights League and American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan filed a lawsuit arguing the executive order is unconstitutional because it discriminates against Muslims. The plaintiffs include Muslims from Yemen who are unable to join their families; a Sudanese man waiting to be married; and a 2-year-old girl stranded in Malaysia with her mother.

The executive actions were part of the discussion in the community meetings.

“We certainly heard a lot of frustration from some of the folks in those meetings with the way that these recent executive orders have been rushed through; that they haven’t been implemented in a way that makes sense,” said Peters, a member of the Senate homeland security committee who said he invited Kelly to talk about opportunities to expand trade and commerce.

“The secretary heard those comments, he takes them to heart, and will be part of how we make sure that in the future that folks are fully informed of those changes,” he added.

Imad Hamad, director of the American Human Rights Council in Dearborn, was not invited to any of the meetings, but he expressed hope Monday’s conversations will lead to change.

“Being inclusive is not limited to meet and greet,” Hamad said. “It’s about the substance that can be produced out of these settings. It’s important to be around the table; however, it’s more important to have a little actual say.”

But other participants had different concerns.

Martin Manna, an advocate for Iraqi Christian refugees and president of the Chaldean Chamber of Commerce in Southfield, said he expressed a desire to see an immigration policy that grants priority status for ethnic and religious minorities of Iraq traveling to the United States.

The president’s latest executive order did not create a priority for accepting Christians from six Muslim-majority countries with terrorism-related problems, such as Iran, Libya and the Sudan. But it dropped Iraq from the travel ban.

Manna also talked about how deporting Chaldeans from the United States would amount to a “death sentence” for Iraqi Christians.

“We’re wondering if other procedures can be undertaken. If there’s any other options,” he said. “I was really thankful for the dialogue. ... I know that they’re aware of our concerns, and he did say that there would be some follow-up.”

Dearborn Police Chief Ronald Haddad, who attended a separate meeting Monday, said the discussion with Kelly was “very productive.”

“We talked about the national policies that put pressure on our community, and we closed with telling him how committed Dearborn and the region are in keeping the nation safe,” he said. “The fear that’s going around the country shouldn’t cloud the fact that Dearborn and the surrounding region is committed to protecting the nation.”

Dearborn is home to about 40,000 Arab-Americans.

Responding to a question about Toronto’s school district halting trips to the United States for fear that Trump’s travel ban would apply to students, Kelly said the concerns are unfounded.

“None of those individuals in Canada would (be covered) by the EO we’re operating under,” the secretary said. “I don’t get it, but if they feel that way, that’s their loss, I guess. If they’re in Canada legally and they have the proper paperwork, they don’t have to worry about anything.”

Trade deemed vital

Kelly also was visiting to talk about securing the northern border without hurting trade. During a news conference at the U.S. Customs & Border Protection’s Fort Street Cargo Processing Facility near the Ambassador Bridge, the secretary said the U.S.-Canada border is vital to the country’s economy.

“This border is different than (the U.S.-Mexico border),” Kelly said. “Commerce is key. Anything we can do to speed up the process is good for America and good for Canada.”

Peters said he asked Kelly for funding to expand the Bluewater Bridge customs plaza in Port Huron and the Soo Locks in Sault Ste Marie. The Obama administration failed to push funding for the customs plaza in Port Huron after listing it as a high-priority site.

“We’re looking forward to the new Gordie Howe bridge, which will continue to bring commerce into our state,” Peters said about the Windsor-Detroit span that is scheduled for completion in 2020.

“We’ve got to make sure as that commerce comes in, and as business grows, that we keep America safe. There’s no job more important to the federal government.”

But the key topic of the visit remained immigration, with Kelly stressing it’s not his job to interpret immigration laws.

“If the laws on the books are not good laws relative to immigration, then change them,” he said. “I’m a public official sworn to uphold the laws.”

ghunter@detroitnews.com

Staff Writer Mark Hicks contributed.

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