A Real Common Cents Approach to Immigration

February 06, 2009

Michigan communities are taking their place amongst localities leading the way towards adopting common sense approaches towards immigration policy.


Recently, communities such as Lewisville, Texas and Nashville, Tennessee have voted down English-only ordinances that would have banned the use of other languages for official government business. On Wednesday night, Macomb County did the same, as the County Charter Commission resoundingly rejected a similar ordinance by a vote of 25 to 1.

The proposed ordinance, introduced by Commissioner Harry Awdey, would have banned government officials from offering services in multiple languages. As a result, government offices such as the health department would not have been able to hand out multilingual pamphlets or to hire employees to communicate with non-English speakers.

As reported to the Detroit Free Press, Commissioner Awdey defended the proposal as a “commonsense solution to the county’s problems” that would save money by eliminating extra printing and hiring costs.

I am proud to report that Commissioner Awdey’s fellow commissioners accurately debunked this type of reasoning as not only “repugnant and offensive,” but also inaccurate and counterproductive.

In today’s economic climate, we need to create jobs in Michigan, not remove them. Moreover, a vibrant immigrant community actually enhances a locality’s economic vitality, as this both increases purchasing power and creates a fertile environment for new niche businesses. Macomb County has rightfully recognized that it is in all of our best interest’s to build a government that is good for each one of its residents.

The national government would do well to follow this type of “commonsense approach” as it looks to fix our immigration system.

In 2003, the National Fugitive Operations Program was with the self-defined mission to promote national security by removing dangerous criminal fugitive aliens through immigration raids on residential and employer cites.

As noted by a recent front page article in the New York Times, the Department of Homeland Security repeatedly told Congress that these raids would concentrate on rounding up the most threatening criminal and terrorism suspects.

It was for this specific, targeted purpose that Congress allocated more than $625 million to the program in its first five years, most recently providing $218 million in FY 2008, which represents a 23-fold increase from its initial allocation.

Yet, a recent report by the Migration Policy Institute indicates that this description of the program, the one that suggested that it would increase our national security, the one that induced Congress to provide more funding than any other program run by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, was false.

According to federal government documents procured through a Freedom of Information lawsuit, 73 percent of the individuals apprehended under this program had no criminal conviction. Many did not even have an outstanding deportation order.

These shocking figures stemmed from internal agency policies that set a1000 apprehension target goal for each raid team and allowed the apprehension of non-criminal aliens to be counted towards this goal. As a result, officers focused on the easier, non-criminal apprehensions to reach their targets.

The humanitarian costs to those involved are clear. But what is also clear is that these raids did not achieve their stated goal. Put bluntly, they are a waste of money.

These raids do not increase our national security.

These raids do not remove the most threatening terrorism suspects in our midst.

Congress did not allocate millions of dollars to conduct raids on non-criminal immigrants.

Under the new direction of the Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, the federal government should take a page from a movement that is growing amongst local communities such as Macomb County, follow a commonsense approach, and redirect our increasingly scarce resources towards programs that will yield real results.

By Jessie Rossman, ACLU of Michigan Staff Attorney