MIRC Takes Issue

Statement in Support of Farmworker Protections

MIRC Immigrant Worker Rights Team

Many farmworkers travel long distances to work in Michigan harvesting, packing, and processing our fruits and vegetables and they are dependent on their employer for both work and housing. The work they do is often dangerous and always physically and mentally demanding. Yet, the men, women, and children, who harvest, pack and process our fruits and vegetables, have been left out of employment protections other workers enjoy. The exclusion of farmworkers from basic employment protections is rooted in the historical legacy of slavery in the agricultural sector and our country’s racial history. To this day, farmworkers are not entitled to overtime pay and are also not entitled to protection from retaliation if they come together to better their work or housing conditions.

On June 1, 2020, Governor Whitmer issued Executive Order 2020-111 “Protecting the Food Supply and Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Workers from the effects of COVID-19” which creates temporary new protections for Michigan farmworkers living in employer-provided housing. This executive order extends the worker protections in Executive Order 2020-97 “Safeguards to protect Michigan’s workers from COVID-19” to include Michigan’s agricultural workers living in employer-provided housing. Together, these two orders are important proactive and preventative measures that create a clear, uniform, and enforceable standard for the agricultural industry. These standards are critical as current migrant housing and workplace health and safety laws do not account for the unanticipated public health challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The executive order is timely and necessary to protect the occupants at these housing sites, all agricultural workers in the state, and the general public. In Michigan annually, there are over 40,000 farmworkers and their family members who live and work in our communities. About half of those farmworkers will live in employer-provided housing, often near their worksites in remote or rural parts of the state. Currently, there are approximately 840 migrant housing sites that will be occupied with over 26,000 individuals during the peak growing season (April through September). The order ensures the most vulnerable farmworkers are protected from COVID-19 and not overlooked or forgotten during this unprecedented pandemic.

Through her executive order, Governor Whitmer has made it clear that Michigan will do better for our farmworker population and will take into account their particular vulnerabilities while living at employer-provided housing sites in Michigan. The order took effect on June 1, 2020 and will be in place until June 29, 2020, or until further notice. The Michigan Immigrant Rights Center (MIRC) hopes the order will be extended to ensure farmworkers coming to Michigan after June 29th are also protected.

MIRC supports the Governor’s actions and urges those who care about the health and safety of agricultural workers in Michigan to help share news about the Executive Order and its importance. Farmworker health and safety is a public health concern that we should all care about and centering the needs of farmworkers will ensure the stability of Michigan’s food supply.

Farmworkers who have questions about how Executive Order 2020-111 might affect them, are encouraged to call MIRC’s free confidential worker hotline at 800-968-4046. 


Understanding Family Separation and MIRC's Response


In May 2018, the Trump administration formally announced a “zero tolerance” immigration policy and began prosecuting nearly all adult immigrants illegally entering the United States on misdemeanor charges. As a result, the U.S. government removed any children from these immigrants’ care and placed the children in shelters or federal foster care. This practice of family separation was also enforced against parents applying for asylum at U.S. ports of entry.

Under this new immigration policy, the U.S. government reported that nearly 3,000 children were forcibly separated from their parents between May and June 2018. Yet, we know that May 2018 was not the beginning of family separation--hundreds of children were separated from their parents at the border before the official announcement. In fact, MIRC saw affected clients before national attention focused on the crisis and began collaborating with class counsel from the ACLU in the Ms. L v. ICE case.

One prominent example of an early family separation case was that of the youngest known separated child, Constantin Mutu, who was four months old when we met him. You can learn more about his family's story in this week's episode of "The Weekly" from the New York Times, available on Hulu. MIRC team members Ana Raquel Devereaux and Camila Trefftz make an appearance in the episode. We are so grateful to our baby client's family for sharing their story and allowing us to share the role we played in it.

MIRC represented every child placed in Michigan who was separated from their parents while the official zero-tolerance policy was in effect. We're relieved to report that all of these children were reunited with their families by October 23, 2018. This was not the end of the family separation crisis, though. Even after the federal judge in the Ms. L case ordered the government to end this practice and President Trump rescinded the policy, family separations have continued. MIRC continues to represent every child brought to Michigan to ensure their legal rights are protected.

In addition to representing unaccompanied children placed in Michigan foster care, MIRC also represents Michigan parents facing other immigration-related legal situations that lead to family separation. For example, when ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detains an undocumented parent for driving without a license --this is family separation. When a migrant farmworker parent loses his or her child after being charged with neglect for living in substandard, employer-provided housing--this is family separation. And when a parent is detained in a detention facility hundreds of miles away from his or her children, or when that facility doesn't permit in-person visitation--this is family separation. We step into the breach.

With support from our funders and other supporters, MIRC has increased capacity by hiring ten new staff attorneys and six other new staff since November 2016. MIRC is now a program of 30 staff, including attorneys, intake coordinators, legal assistants, policy staff, and an expanded leadership team. This capacity-building allows us to respond not only to the family separation crisis, but also to other significant efforts to restrict the rights of immigrants in this country. For example, MIRC now fields free calls from every detainee and every respondent in immigration court in Detroit. They are each given our intake number and MIRC provides legal information, advice about their rights and options, and/or referrals. This was not possible a year ago.

We are grateful to our funders, supporters, partners, stakeholders and community advocates who make it possible for us to respond to recent attacks on our immigrant communities. Right now, we’re preparing for the next potential crisis (possibly in response to government actions described in President Trump’s tweet on Monday). Whatever comes next, MIRC will be ready to respond to and lead against the administration’s challenges and affronts to rights of Michigan’s immigrants.



Fighting for Farmworker Minimum Wage

Photo: Detroit News file photo

Photo Credit: Detroit News

Hillary Scholten

The right to a minimum wage is one of the most basic and fundamental protections a worker can count on in the workplace. Agricultural workers are among the most vulnerable and often-exploited workers, doing one of the most dangerous, and essential jobs, in today's economy. Michigan’s Wage and Hour laws are meant to offer stateside protection to workers where the federal government will not. Until very recently, this included agricultural workers on Michigan’s small farms. However, on December 19, 2017, then-Attorney General Bill Schuette changed that.

AG Opinion #7301, reinterprets a part of Michigan’s minimum wage laws (known as the Workforce Opportunity Wage Act (WOWA)) as excluding workers on Michigan’s small farms from minimum wage protections. In his opinion, the former Attorney General concluded, “This construction of subsection 10(1)(b) has the effect of leaving some employees without a right to a minimum hourly wage under the WOWA (or the FLSA).” The interpretation reversed a decade-long understanding, one confirmed by the legislative history surrounding the section's passage, that this subsection offered minimum wage protection to all workers, including those on small farms.

As soon as AG Opinion #7301 issued, MIRC got to work with our partners at Farmworker Legal Services, and other state government  partners to reverse or curb the effects of the opinion. While the former Attorney General did not change his position, there's a new AG in charge. The Michigan Department of Civil Rights, at the direction of the Michigan Civil Rights Commission, has asked Attorney General Dana Nessel to reconsider AG #7301.

Our need to protect workers right to a basic minimum wage for the labor they provide is not only crucial to ensure the entry-level justice for these workers, but it's only essential for the future viability of agricultural labor here in Michigan, which means the future of the food we put on our plates every day. You can speak out by adding your name to this letter (by April 26, 2019) to the Attorney General's Office that states that you want her to rescind AG #7301 and issue new guidance that clarifies that all agricultural workers in Michigan are entitled to Michigan's minimum wage. 


Statement on Ongoing Family Separation Crisis


Today, the Texas Civil Rights Project released a new report, The Real National Emergency: Zero Tolerance & the Continuing Horrors of Family Separation at the Border, showing how family separations have continued at the Southwest border.

The Michigan Immigrant Rights Center provides legal services to every child who comes to Michigan as an "unaccompanied" child in federal immigration custody.  This has included children unlawfully made "unaccompanied" by the government through family separation. As of October 23, 2018, every child who was separated from a parent during the 2018 height of the federal government's family separation policy and brought to Michigan in immigration custody had been reunited with their families.  The Texas Civil Rights Project report, information obtained through litigation, and other evidence firmly establish that the family separation crisis is ongoing.  However, prior to Friday, February 15, 2019, we had not confirmed that any new family separation referrals were accepted for placement in Michigan.  This week, we have identified at least one child newly-arrived in Michigan who was separated from a parent by the Department of Homeland Security upon arrival in the United States and an additional case that raises serious questions which we continue to investigate. 

The federal government's bad faith actions and complete breach of trust have put legal advocates for unaccompanied children in an extremely difficult position.  Some truly unaccompanied children are fleeing persecution by family members. We represent children and youth who have fled severe abuse, human trafficking, and pervasive persecution based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.  This means we must listen carefully to clients of all ages to fully understand their unique situations and legal needs and make careful case-by-case decisions about our communication with our clients' families.

MIRC will take the following actions in all cases:

  • We will continue to fully screen every unaccompanied child who arrives in Michigan in federal immigration custody within one week of their arrival to determine their legal rights with respect to their immigration status and custody status.  This includes deep legal screening and advice about their new and emerging legal rights in all federal litigation relating to family separation.
  • We will fully investigate all government assertions about the basis for any family separation, particularly any allegations of harm or abuse by parents meant to justify separation.  We will communicate with clients' parents, other family members, or other third parties when appropriate and needed to understand their situations and advance their interests. 
  • We will continue to be in close communication about any potential family separation cases we identify with counsel, the American Civil Liberties Union, in the ongoing national class action lawsuit challenging family separation practices, Ms. L v. ICE.
  • We will take necessary and appropriate legal action with regard to our individual clients' custody status in any case where it is in those clients' interest.

We are grateful to the many stakeholders and community advocates in Michigan who join us in demanding transparency and accountability from our government with respect to the treatment of children and families targeted by the family separation policy.


Voces de Detroit: Conductores Negros, Pasajeros Morenos

Illustration: Michigan Immigrant Rights Center (data source: https://www.cbp.gov/sites/default/files/assets/documents/2017-Dec/BP%20Staffing%20FY1992-FY2017.pdf)

Source: www.cbp.gov/sites/default/files/assets/documents/2017-Dec/BP%20Staffing%20FY1992-FY2017.pdf

Tania Morriz Díaz & Erika Murcia

Cómo el Michigan Immigrant Rights Center esta navegando el sistema migratorio estatal opresivo.

*Originalmente publicado por Race Forward en su página web ColorLines aquí.

Este ensayo es la segunda entrega de una serie de piezas escritas por activistas locales que lideran el trabajo de cambio en todo Michigan. La serie tiene la intención de elevar sus perspectivas únicas y rendir homenaje a las personas y grupos que lideran la lucha para promover la equidad en nuestra ciudad anfitriona de Detroit.

El sistema de inmigración legal no esta roto. Funciona exactamente como fue intencionado: para preservar y perpetuar el dominio blanco. Aunque parezca que el sistema de migración está pasando por un cambio radical bajo la administración actual, en realidad – solamente está siendo afinado. La migración nunca fue (ni debería ser vista como) un asunto que afecta solo al migrante “estereotipado”: un adulto, moreno, hombre Mexicano quien clandestinamente cruza la frontera buscando (o “robando” como muchos podrían pensar) oportunidades laborales. Las leyes de migración afectan a cualquier persona, en cualquier lugar, a los quienes no hayan nacido con el privilegio de la ciudadanía estadounidense. Nuestra leyes de inmigración son complejas y la experiencias de los individuales navegando dichas leyes depende de una dimensión principal: su raza en relación con su estatus migratorio.

Los paralelos entre el racismo institucional infundido en el sistema de justicia criminal y aquellos dentro del sistema de migración no es por coincidencia. Ambos fueron formados por el mismo poder histórico impuesto por legisladores hombres, blancos, ricos. Dentro de los cinco días de haber jurado su cargo, el 45º presidente ordenó la deportación de cualquier persona que cabe dentro una categoría amplia de priorización – incluyendo recipientes de residencia permanente y visas. Mientras que Michigan está a más de 1.000 millas de la frontera mexicana, es legalmente dentro de una “distancia razonable” de la frontera canadiense, otorgando a la Patrulla Aduanera y Fronteriza conocido por sus siglas en en inglés como CBP, la capacidad de realizar búsquedas sin autorización en todo el estado. CBP ha estado trabajando estrechamente con la Policía Estatal de Michigan conocida por sus siglas en inglés como MSP, uniendo el acoso racial por las autoridades federales de inmigración dirigido a los no ciudadanos con el acoso racial dirigidos a los  ciudadanos [incluyendo tanto a personas con presencia legal como los indocumentados].

En Michigan, esto ha llevado a escenarios comunes en los que los agentes de CBP están exigiendo a los pasajeros de los autobuses Greyhound que prueben su ciudadanía estadounidense. Dado que llevar tal documentación no es un requisito legal, está claro que esto solamente es una excusa de "neutral" a la caracterización racial. Por ejemplo, Michigan es el hogar de una de las comunidades Árabes y Árabes Estadounidenses más grandes en los Estados Unidos (EE.UU.) Sin embargo, a pesar de que el 82 por ciento de los Árabes en los EE. UU. son ciudadanos, un número aplastante sigue siendo subyugado a la caracterización raciales. De manera similar, MSP instituyó la práctica de solicitar a los pasajeros de automóviles conducidos por ciudadanos estadounidenses que presenten pruebas de su estado migratorio. A los ciudadanos estadounidenses se les puede detener por un tubo de escape defectuoso que, a pesar de no resultar en una multa de tránsito para quien conduce el auto, finalmente llevará a la detención y deportación de cualquier pasajero que no sea ciudadano estadounidense a bordo

La alarmante y desproporcionada taza de pasajeros Afrodescendientes, Afro-Indígenas y Latinxs quienes han sido detenidos por MSP ha llevado a que grupos locales solicitaron a MSP que inicie una investigación formal sobre el proceso de caracterización racial  de los automovilistas.

En este sentido, las dimensiones de raza entrelazada con el estatus migratorio y detención masiva impiden a los inmigrantes (tanto adultos como niños) de obtener cualquier beneficio legal de migración en Michigan. Este problema de deshumanización es particular para Michigan ya que las tasas estatales de encarcelamiento son una de las peores en el mundo. Además, el número de agentes en el sector de Detroit ha incrementado de 38 a 411 entre 2001 y 2015, un incremento del 981 por ciento, hasta el momento  la tasa de crecimiento más rápida de cualquier Patrulla Aduanera Fronteriza (CBP) en los Estados Unidos.

Una vez detenidos, los migrantes están puestos en una lista de causas judiciales que se mueve mucho más rápido en comparación con aquellos que luchan contra el sistema legal de inmigración desde afuera de la detención. Pero ser liberado bajo fianza es una hazaña en sí misma, ya que los jueces de migración no tienen restricción legal en cuanto a la cantidad máxima de fianza solicitada, pero, como se esperaba, dichas fianzas tienen un mínimo de $1.500.

En 2009, el Michigan Immigrant Rights Center (MIRC) fue fundado para servir como un recurso defensor para nuestras comunidades inmigrantes estatales. En 2018, lanzamos el programa Detroit Front Door, con el propósito de expandir acceso a recursos y representación legal para inmigrantes que están en procedimientos de deportación para contrarrestar el sistema opresivo migratorio y las prácticas policiales de la área metropolitana de Detroit. El objetivo es luchar en contra de la deshumanización de inmigrantes y defender sus derechos humanos. Este programa cerrará la brecha de los servicios legales migratorios que son de bajos recursos y poco atendidos en Michigan. El programa busca impactar positivamente un estimado de 4.000 inmigrantes de escasos recursos en la zona metropolitana de Detroit.

Sobre las autoras

Erika Murcia es una coordinadora de admisiones de MIRC apoyando con un sistema robusto de admisiones y asistiendo con desarrollo de capacidad en Detroit. Erika obtuvo su licenciatura en Relaciones Internacionales en la Universidad de El Salvador, y se graduó con una maestría de Trabajo Social de la Universidad de Michigan, donde ella fue becada por el Programa Community-Based Initiative in Detroit, y por el Center for the Education of Women +.

Tania Morris Díaz es una abogada del equipo de MIRC quien representa migrantes en Detroit. Tania obtuvo su licenciatura en Estudios Internacionales en la Universidad de Alabama del Sur, estudió su Maestría en Ciencias Políticas la Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México y se graduó de su título en leyes de la Escuela de Derecho en la Universidad de Michigan.


The Challenge of Undoing Unwelcoming

Picture of candlelight vigil

A candlelight vigil Monday night outside the University Center at the University of Michigan-Dearborn honors the victims of the Paris attacks. David Guralnick / The Detroit News

Susan Reed

The Challenge of Undoing Unwelcoming by Susan Reed, Co-Managing Attorney Michigan Immigrant Rights Center

This has been a difficult week for us at the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center as we lead our Welcoming Michigan initiative.  I do not mean to compare our experience in any way to that of the victims of the horrific attacks in Paris or Beirut.  It isn’t comparable.  But we have been feeling shaken in our own way.  Our initiative has received significant attention and positive regard from Michigan Governor Rick Snyder in the three years since our launch, and we have appreciated it.  Governor Snyder’s annual proclamations and frequent highlighting of our work has made a difference.  He has helped us make it clearer that when Michigan welcomes immigrants, Michigan thrives.  Governor Snyder has described himself as the most pro-immigration governor in the country. He established the Michigan Office for New Americans in 2014.  In September of this year, Governor Snyder announced to the state’s Commission on Middle Eastern Affairs, which he created, that he was exploring formal ways to bring more Syrian refugees to Michigan and his office has actively engaged with many in the nonprofit refugee resettlement community to further that vision.  Governor Snyder’s unique steps to encourage refugee resettlement got national attention.  But this week, we saw Governor Snyder’s public statements set off an unprecedented wave of state governors seeking to ban completely refugees from their states.  Although he attempted to clarify that he had really only been able to say he was suspending refugee resettlement efforts as a Governor because he himself had first enthusiastically engaged in those efforts, it didn’t seem to take.  State governors confronted with the news that they don’t have the authority to actually ban refugees began calling for Congress to give it to them.

A bill is now making its way through Congress that would require the Director of National Intelligence, the Director of the FBI, the Department Homeland Security, to personally review, come to agreement, and sign off on the admission of each and every Iraqi or Syrian refugee.  This would make resettlement of refugees from those countries practically impossible.  No one can predict what any individual person might do in the future with perfect accuracy, but our current refugee screening process is already extremely robust and effective.   Welcoming the stranger, particularly the one who is running for her life, is a central concept in the Judeo-Christian tradition.  We tolerate far greater risks every day to further much less closely-held or supposedly broadly agreed-upon values.  As part of the wave of governors who made statements this week seeking to bar refugees from entering their state, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie emphatically included “orphans under the age of five” among those who should not be granted protection and safety and among us.  I can only think of the  photo of Syrian three-year-old Alan Kurdi who drowned in August when I hear that absolute rejection of the notion that even the smallest risk is worth taking to save the life of someone so vulnerable.  Baby Alan and his brother and mother died on their journey after his aunt’s struggle to bring them to join her as refugees in Canada failed.

Refugees, Muslim refugees in particular, have been unpopular in certain circles for a very long time and those are circles the Governor moves in.  So, I suppose I assumed that he had already weighed and understood the relevant political and security concerns when he decided in September to make such a strong statement in support of Syrian refugee admissions to Michigan.  That’s why I expected him to lead in the moment of crisis created by the Paris attacks.  I expected him to reassure the public about refugees and refugee resettlement.  I expected him to remind us that horrible violence in Paris is what the Syrian refugees are running from.  That’s why I was so stunned when instead, he stepped back in such a highly visible way.  If he had new doubts, I would have expected him to consult the many subject matter experts inside and outside of state government that stood alongside him in September.  He has direct access to many people who could have provided the reassurance he was seeking. On October 16, I myself sat in Lansing with hundreds of nonprofit and faith-based refugee advocates and many state officials (including the director of the Michigan Office for New Americans) at the annual conference of the Michigan Committee for Refugee Resettlement. We heard detailed in-person presentations from a high level U.S. State Department official and the director of the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement about the mechanics of refugee processing and the rigorous security screening process.  Why with this wealth of internal capacity and direct connection to federal experts did the Governor choose to seek information in a public letter addressed to Secretaries Kerry and Johnson and post the letter on his official Facebook page where hundreds of hateful and racist comments about Syrian refugees and Muslims in general have now been made? The Governor has indicated that he sent the letter on his own initiative and not in response to a public challenge from State Representative Gary Glenn (R-Midland) to reverse his call to relocate Syrian refugees in the state.  

There is an opportunity for learning here about the work we have to do as an advocacy community.  We have to make sure that those who would become our allies see immigrants and refugees as subjects in their own lives, not mere objects in the lives of Americans.  When we have allies who understand immigrants and refugees as a means to an economic end rather than equal partners in seeking shared prosperity, we can get disastrous results.  It's true that on the whole, immigrants and refugees contribute economically and that's an important part of our message.  It will be especially important to many policy makers.  But those who value our communities for solely or primarily economic reasons will not hesitate to put us back on the shelf when they perceive that the cost of standing with us has risen.   Abandonment can be as bad as any opposition.   I believe the Governor failed to understand the complex context that immigrants, refugees, and in particular Michigan’s Arab-American communities have to deal with in our state and this country. I hope he will commit some of his brand of relentless positive action to undoing some of the damage that misunderstanding has done. I hope he will find new ways to support the many tireless advocates and committed organizations he has expressed prior support for in spite of the critical words and witness we are called to in the midst of this failure.  But to be successful in achieving his vision now, he's going to have to convince a lot of Michiganders who cheered his actions this week that he was wrong to take them and that those who have followed him were wrong to do so.  He has made it much more difficult for himself and immeasurably more difficult for us to be Welcoming, but we will continue on.

Subscribe to MIRC Takes Issue