When I was in college, I helped mentor a young high school student who had recently moved to the area with his parents from Oaxaca in Mexico. While in school, we spent time working on school work and learning English. But we also talked about missing his family back home and about why his family chose southwest Michigan, of all places, as a place to land.
While this young man and I haven’t kept in touch over the years, he has stuck with me. Our conversations come to me more today as we face a pervasive anti-immigrant sentiment throughout our state and nation.
Within a week of taking office, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that essentially restricted travel to the United States from several Muslim-majority nations. Many people, including legal residents, refugees fleeing war-torn countries and students, got caught by this ban and were forced into limbo, to remain at airports or to return to the country they traveled from. This ban has since been halted, and a subsequent one will soon be heard by the United States Supreme Court.
Since then, it seems some people, lawmakers and government agencies think they’ve been given license to discriminate.
More than once in the past six months, I’ve seen newspaper stories about immigration raids in cities near where I live, and in other cities, I’ve heard stories of immigration officials waiting outside of schools. In Michigan, legislation is pending on the House floor that takes aim at any local government that might have a “sanctuary policy,” and there was recently discussion on a bill that would make English the state’s official language. These bills are unnecessary—solutions in search of a problem—and are simply meant to divide “us” from “them.” The League and many of our partners opposed these bills, but the Legislature may move forward anyway.
Furthermore, the Trump tax plan and budget call for requiring a Social Security number to qualify for the federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit, which just stokes the anti-immigrant sentiment. The IRS already requires a taxpayer to have a Social Security number to receive the EITC. So this really isn’t a policy change. Furthermore, by targeting assistance intended to benefit children, and which studies have shown have long-lasting positive impacts on the lives and well-being of children, this only hurts many U.S. children who have no control over their parents’ immigration status.
Did you know immigrants pay taxes? In fact, in Michigan, undocumented immigrants pay roughly $86.7 million in state and local taxes (and would pay more if they were granted full legal status). Their effective tax rate is already higher than the top 1% in Michigan. And regardless of legal status, they are not stealing our jobs or our benefits.
Too often immigrants are treated as culprits for whatever ails us, when really they make this nation a richer place to live. The young man I mentored over a decade ago saw the United States—and the great state of Michigan—as an opportunity for a better life. And while I hope I helped him, I know he improved my life greatly.
I do have hope though. I have hope when I look at my son with one of his best friends, whose family comes from a country in northern Africa. While I know my son sees their differences, all he really wants to do is play with his friend. And in the future, I hope that he doesn’t see those differences as something that divides them but rather as something that unites them.
— Rachel Richards