Letter: Support our immigrant neighbors

The Detroit News
Michigan residents should welcome their foreign-born neighbors and co-workers contributing to their communities, Sauvé writes.

Earlier this month, Macomb County sent a letter to the U.S. State Department in compliance with an executive order from the Trump administration requiring state and local governments to consent to the resettlement of refugees in their communities.

The move received backlash on social media from those who oppose welcoming immigrants in our local communities.

Reading the hurtful comments, I found myself thinking back to the dangerous floods in southeast Michigan in 2014 when I was stranded in my rapidly flooding car on a low-lying road in an industrial area of Dearborn, my panic rising with the water. 

Two young strangers ran toward me to help: Ahmed and Samir, Muslim immigrants from Yemen. These two Good Samaritans stayed with me for hours until aid could arrive. 

My experience is not unique. Quietly, and with little fanfare, foreign-born neighbors and co-workers are contributing to our communities in countless ways. I have met a Mexican man who mows his neighbors’ lawns and shovels their snow; a Yemeni restaurant owner who donates food to those in need, a Bhutanese refugee who served in the U.S. Army, and a Bangladeshi woman who offered to pay for the funeral of her white neighbor’s father.

Our local communities are better off thanks to contributions like these.

Most Michigan residents are compassionate, generous people who abhor the bias and hate crimes that have been sadly on the rise across our state and the nation. In 2018, Michigan had the sixth highest number of hate incidents in the U.S.

But it’s not enough just to be sorry these things are happening; if the caring majority stay silent and don’t proactively welcome and support newcomers, then bad actors will be emboldened to commit more hateful acts, and the social fabric of our communities will unravel.

Here are some things Michigan residents can do to help immigrants in their communities:

►Be a good neighbor. Smile and introduce yourself. Give a compliment or talk about what you have in common. If you know that someone is new to the community, rather than opening with “Where are you from?” — which could be off-putting — try, “I noticed you’re new here and wanted to welcome you.” Offer to answer any questions that could help them settle in. Let them know that if they do encounter any discrimination, you’re an ally and a resource.

►Get involved in local policy making. When your elected officials have to make a decision on issues that affect your immigrant neighbors or policies that could make their lives better, let them know you care. Tell them you support your city’s efforts to expand interpretation and translation services for those who need it, thank your County leaders for supporting refugee resettlement, or tell your state senator you support the Drive SAFE Bills to help immigrants obtain driver’s licenses.

At a time when immigration to Michigan is down, we want our state to remain an attractive destination for newcomers and a safe and welcoming place for those who are already here. Let’s each commit to taking small, daily actions that will make Michigan a more welcoming and inclusive state for all, where we speak up for our immigrant neighbors and can feel proud of how we treat each other.

Christine Sauvé, director of the Welcoming Michigan project, Detroit