Skip to content

New Kent County Immigration Welcoming Plan elevates business, while ignoring the fear that immigrants face from discrimination and ICE violence

September 29, 2020

We know how important a broadly diverse population is for the success of our state. Immigration is key to increasing diversity in our population and boosting our economy. Without immigration growth, the state of Michigan would be poised to lose population for the second census in a row. Perhaps even more impressive, the economic power of Grand Rapids’ immigrant community alone grew by more than $100 million in just one year, and immigrants in Grand Rapids hold nearly $1.5 billion in spending power. At the core of this initiative is the belief that Grand Rapids and Kent County are home to everyone who lives here, and it should feel like it too.

Creating a welcoming and inclusive environment for New Americans in Kent County is not only the right thing to do, it also contributes economically to the area’s wellbeing. We want New Americans to stay in the area; they’ll stay if they feel welcomed, included, and valued.

This is the opening statement from the 36-page plan that Kent County recently published, which provides their strategy for making immigrants feel welcomed. This document is a follow up to the 2018 Gateways for Growth report on how much the immigrant community contributes to Kent County in economic terms. Like the 2018 report, this new document centers business interests over human rights an community safety.

Before discussing the content of the new Kent County plan, it is worth looking at who the Steering Committee and the larger Task Force is made up of. The Steering Committee is made up of people from the business community, one non-profit group (Samaritas) and three government officials.

The Task Force is much larger, as you can see from the entities listed here on the right. The Task Force consists of 36 different groups, with 5 government bodies, 2 law enforcement groups, 6 business entities, 7 non-profit/social service agencies, 4 Cultural entities, 6 Educational groups and a few other entities.

The strong business and economic language of the welcoming plan is a direct result of the business entities like the Chamber of Commerce and the Right Place Inc,, being members of the Task Forces, as well as government bodies, which too often measure success on economic terms, rather than human rights or quality of life.

The Welcoming Plan has lots of images and uses data to celebrate new immigrants, but is limited in terms of a clear and over-arching strategic plan. Sure, the Welcoming Plan wants to make sure that immigrants have access to education and other opportunities, but the recommendations to achieve such goals are vague and short sighted.

On page 16 of the document, the headline reads, Maximize the Potential of New Americans. One goal is to, “Enhance business resources for New American entrepreneurs and business owners,” which is what West Michigan values most……the expansion of entrepreneurs.

However, the fact remains that a large percentage of new immigrants work as migrant labor, in the service sector, landscaping, food industry and construction, with grossly inadequate wages. The Welcoming Plan says nothing about these immigrants and how thousands of them are:

  • Subjected to poverty
  • Live in substandard housing
  • Have little or no health care
  • Face linguistic an cultural barriers on a daily basis

Migrant workers are “essential” workers, in terms of West Michigan food production, yet most migrant workers make less than minimum wage and work under difficult and harsh circumstances. Add to this the pandemic and migrant workers are faced with an extremely precarious predicament. So, when the Welcoming Plan emphasizes entrepreneurs, it automatically excludes thousands who literally put food on our tables, yet suffer exploitation at the hands of agribusiness sector.

Another Welcoming Plan strategy is to provide greater access to people to participate in local civics. While the intent is laudable, the reality is that the Kent County government does not provide simultaneous translation for government meetings, plus the majority of meetings take plus in the morning, making public attendance nearly impossible.

Beginning on page 28, you will find a section that is framed as making Kent County residents feel safe. The usual Neo-liberal tactics are used, such as making law enforcement officers more culturally competent, building relationships between cops and new immigrants and “helping” new immigrants understand the law.

In this section there is no acknowledgement of:

  • How thousands of new immigrants live in fear of law enforcement
  • How local law enforcement cooperates with Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) to arrest, detain and deport new immigrants
  • How thousands of new immigrants are exploited because of their legal status

For immigrant-led groups like Movimiento Cosecha GR, the lack of local government entities to work with them on issues like Driver’s Licenses for All and ICE violence, hasn’t made them feel welcomed or heard when it comes to the critical issues that many new immigrants face.

In the end, it seems that the new Kent County Welcoming Plan; 1) while celebrating economic contributions of immigrants, fails to come to terms with the fact that thousands of new immigrants are being exploited; 2) fails to acknowledge the real fear that new immigrants are experiencing in this community; 3) fails to provide clear and just recommendations on how to deal with ICE violence; and 4) sends the message that new immigrants are welcomed if they operate within the entrepreneurial/assimilationist/White Savior model that can also be described as West Michigan Nice.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: