Grassroots Responsiveness to Human Rights Abuse: History of the Washtenaw Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights

Article excerpt

The growth of the Latino population in Michigan mirrors nationwide trends. According to the U.S. Census Bureau (2010), from 2000 to 2010 Michigan's Latino population increased 34.7 percent, and Washtenaw County (located in the southeastern part of the state) experienced a 56.8 percent increase. In the past decade, there was not only a rise in the Latino population, but also a dramatic shift in immigration policies, most notably within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which was formed in 2003 as a response to the 9/11 terrorist acts. Within DHS, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) emerged as the agency with regulatory powers to respond to growing concerns over threats to the United States, with specific attention to immigration. ICE, now the main enforcer of immigration laws, "has markedly increased the pace of worksite raids in the past few years to apprehend undocumented immigrants" with a sevenfold increase in arrests from 2002 to 2006 (Capps, Castaneda, Chaudry, & Santos, 2007, p. 1). Adler (2006) suggested that using immigrants as scapegoats alleviates public concerns and fears. We discuss how a community agency based in Washtenaw County, the Washtenaw Interfaith Coalition for Immigration Rights (WICIR), emerged in response to increasing punitive immigration practices toward the Latino community. We also discuss how WICIR is engaged in advocacy, community education, and policy activities at the local, state, and national levels to stop human rights abuses and advocate for a more humane immigration policy.

As ICE raids continue to increase, Latino--documented and undocumented--residents face constantly shifting and confusing local, state, and national policies (Aldana, 2007). Previously, non-citizens detained by law enforcement could refuse to answer or address immigration questions (such as their immigration status), but now under ICE they are not afforded past protections: [E]xcept in very limited circumstances, ICE is conducting this latest wave of raids with easy access to civil warrants in a way that expands the scope of its law enforcement power, compelling mandatory compliance" (Aldana, 2007, p. 6). In short, the expanded powers of ICE to oversee immigration suggest a problematic trend of human rights violations (Bustamante, 2011; Hing, 2009). The effects of these raids have lasting impacts: devastating children, families, and communities (Brabeck & Xu 2010; Camayd-Freixas, 2008); weakening gender relations (Reas, 2009); destabilizing employer-employee interactions (Crouse, 2009); and criminalizing of immigrants of color (Hing, 2009). These alarming trends not only create a hostile environment for Latinos, but also potentially plant the seeds of hostility from future generations. Thinking ahead to mid-century when Latino youths will become the largest youth population (Martinez, 2011) efforts made to increase rather than decrease incorporation efforts into the U.S. social fabric are vitally important. These immigration enforcements thus negatively impact necessary incorporation efforts into mainstream society (Jones-Correa & Fennelly, 2009).

A social work response to the current immigration climate needs further attention. Although the social work profession does include a policy statement on immigrants and refugees, scholars have noted that social work must still address the important related social justice issues. Padilla, Shapiro, Fernandez-Castro, and Faulkner (2008) suggested that immigration policies must reflect a stronger value for justice and family unification. This article contributes to the field of social work by enhancing the discussion of Latino immigration and civil rights. We discuss the emergence of WICIR, which arose as a response to the growing ICE presence in Washtenaw County, Michigan. We describe how the organization formed (its history and beginnings) and showcase studies of immigration civil rights violations in Washtenaw County.

WICIR: HISTORY AND BEGINNINGS

WICIR, a grassroots all-volunteer organization, was founded in March of 2008 in response to a particularly brutal, small-scale neighborhood raid by ICE and local police. …