Column: Here’s what we can do to support Michigan immigrants and benefit all counties

"Torch of Citizenship" rally for immigrant rights at the Michigan Capitol, Apr. 16, 2021 | Laina G. Stebbins

Despite rhetoric that attempts to divide us, no matter where we were born, what our color, or how we worship, most of us work hard for our families. It also shouldn’t matter how we got here, as many people with the courage and tenacity to move to a new country, in many cases to make a better life, are making significant contributions to their communities here in Michigan. 

Hundreds of thousands of Michiganders were not born in the United States but live, study, work and raise families here. Policies that explicitly include immigrants and remove additional barriers they face have the potential to impact communities all across the state. And this is not just because of our shared humanity, with the health and well-being of each of us impacting the health and well-being of all of us. In fact, state and county numbers show that there are 684,000 immigrants in Michigan and immigrants living in every single county. 

The Michigan League for Public Policy recently released updated fact sheets on immigrants in Michigan and each county. These snapshots include population data, breakdowns by immigration status and changes in these numbers across the last decade for each of the state’s 83 counties. 

In addition, the fact sheets provide a breakdown of region of origin (based on the place of birth for Michigan residents born outside of the United States), which demonstrates the breadth and diversity of the immigrant communities that exist not only across the state but also within each county. 

Children of immigrants in Michigan

Fourteen percent of all children in Michigan are a part of immigrant families. “First-generation” children either have at least one parent who was born outside of the U.S. or were themselves born outside of the country and immigrated with their parents. In Michigan, nine in 10 children of immigrants are U.S.citizens. 

Among Michigan’s immigrant families with citizen children, it is very common for at least one parent to be a U.S. citizen as well (79% of families). For a majority of immigrant families in the state (60%), at least one foreign-born parent has lived in the U.S. for 15 years or more. The number of children in Michigan living below the poverty threshold has decreased over the last few years, for both children in U.S.-born families and children in immigrant families. Still, children in immigrant families have also remained more likely to live in poverty than those without foreign-born parents. 

Advocates want citizenship for immigrants who are essential workers

Health care access

In 2019, 11.6% of Michigan immigrants were uninsured, compared with only 5.3% of Michiganders born in the U.S. The majority of immigrants who are uninsured are noncitizens (68%), as “green card” holders can face long waiting periods and high costs for government health programs, and undocumented immigrants who do not qualify for certain emergency services must pay for coverage in full.

Economic contributions

Just like other residents, immigrants in Michigan, including undocumented people, earn income and pay taxes. “Spending power” is the amount of disposable income left over after federal, state and local taxes (SALT) are paid. In 2019, immigrants in Michigan had approximately $20.3 billion in spending power — and $2.5 billion of this total was attributed to undocumented immigrants.

Policy recommendations

The data in the League’s updated statewide and county-specific immigration fact sheets should help inform and generate action on positive state policies to remove barriers and allow immigrants and their families to more easily thrive in Michigan. Some of these recommendations include: 

The League also is working with key partners to help restore the ability for all Michigan residents to obtain a driver’s license, regardless of immigration status, as was state law until 2008. This change would contribute to a functioning labor market and safer roads, provide better access to healthcare like drive-through COVID testing and increase the amount of money earned and spent across the state. 

State policies that are welcoming and inclusive of immigrants not only help all Michigan families thrive but also can help provide an economic boost as immigrant families earn and spend money in their communities. By joining together to support and implement immigrant-inclusive solutions we can make our state a place that supports and values all families, no exceptions.