St. Johns in Royal Oak Gets Active on Immigration Issues…

St. Johns in Royal Oak Gets Active on Immigration Issues with DRIVE Group

(Crystal A. Proxmire, April 28, 2017)

Royal Oak, MI – By now most have heard the stories – the joy of walking barefoot across a lawn of green grass without the fear of landmines, looking up to see sunshine and robins instead of smoke and bomber planes, going to school and worrying about a spelling test instead of sniper fire, chemical weapons, or starvation.

Or even the stories of those who come to a new land simply because of their pioneering spirit and the drive to make a better life, and how their presence has contributed to the American story of success.

But there is more to understanding immigration issues and policies that simply taking pity on people with stories that most Americans will never truly understand.

There is a history that puts immigration into context. There are processes and policies that govern how new residents arrive.  And there is data about where people are coming from and in what numbers.

Diving deeper is what the folks at St. John’s Episcopal Church are doing through their chapter of DRIVE – the Detroit Regional Interfaith Voice for Equity.

According to their website, DRIVE is “an emerging powerful force for change, creating justice and opportunity in the Detroit region by uniting our faith communities and civic partners across lines of race, class and religion.”  The group formed in 2016 and over 50 congregations in Detroit and the suburbs have taken part in meetings and forums.

St. John’s DRIVE held their Immigration Forum on April 19 with Legal Director of Justice for Our Neighbors Melanie Goldberg, Associate Professor of Law at U of D Mercy School of Law Andrew Moore and Program Coordinator of New Americans Samaritas John Yim sharing pieces of the puzzle to understanding immigration.


Through his work at Samaratas, Yim helps refugees come to the US and helps them get acclimated once they are here.  The obvious things are helping them find a place to live, find work, take English as Second Language classes etc.

“We teach them American values and systems through classes, even things you may not think about,” Yim said.  “We teach them to call 911 if they get in trouble.  Or even we teach the how to use a child car seat, because sometimes people come from countries where car seats aren’t really all that important.  There’s just so many little things we take for granted that we know.”

Refugees are people who come to the US after fleeing from a dangerous country.  “When they flee to a neighboring country they can apply for refugee status,” Yim said.  “It can take up to two years to get refugee status.  The vetting process if very thorough and very intentional.”  The number of refugees accepted through the entire country is capped at 110,000 for 2017.

In 2016 there were 84,995 refugees.  16,370 were from Congo, 12, 587 were from Burma, and 12, 587 were from Syria.


Goldberg said that through history people have migrated for the same basic reasons: family, famine, fear, and freedom from persecution.  “The Pilgrims came here for religious freedom,” she said. “The Irish fled famine.  The Chinese came to the West Coast to work on the railroads. And there are many more examples.”

“People say ‘why don’t they just become a citizen?’ But it’s not the same as it was in the past when all you had to do was take a boat and sign in on Ellis Island…It is a very complex process.”

Ways people can come the US include by being direct family of a citizen, by getting an employment Visa, by seeking asylum or refugee status, or applying for a diversity Visa which is that the US will allow a certain number of people from each country to get a Visa.

She said there have always been ebbs and flows of immigrants and changes in public perception of them, often with immigration tightening up in challenging economic times.

Moore gave the example of the 1960s when officials wanted lenient policies for workers that came to work seasonally in agriculture jobs then returned to Mexico in the off-season.  “Farmers are struggling to find workers and the cost of produce is rising.  “We want their labor but we don’t want them, and that’s a problem we’ve created for ourselves.”


Goldberg explained increased penalties and enforcement has meant fewer agriculture, construction and other labor workers.

She said that before 1986 there were less than 2,000 deportations per year.  Under the Obama administration there were 400,000 per year. And the Trump administration is on track to have even more.

Enforcement is coupled with the fact that ICE, Customs and Border Patrol have jurisdictions that go 100 miles from a border or international shoreline, meaning that these agencies have the right to investigate people with surveillance, stop, search and detain suspected illegal immigrants without local oversight.

Earlier this year, Lansing had become the first Michigan city to be a “sanctuary city,” that would have offered local protections – but not Federal protections – for undocumented residents. The decision was quickly reversed however. 

Other communities, including Royal Oak, Pleasant Ridge and Ferndale, have adopted “Welcoming City” policies that state local police or city staff will not inquire about individual’s resident status, nor will services be denied based on that status.

Goldberg said that ICE “has the largest detention program in the United States, and the most expensive.  You could stay at a nice hotel for less than it costs to house detainees.”  She said the ICE has arrangements with jails in Monroe, Calhoun, Chippewa and St. Clair Counties where those facilities get more than $100 per night per detainee.  She adds that detainees do not have to be proven to be in the US illegally, merely suspected of it, to be locked up. There is such backlog that hearings are now being scheduled for 2021, with taxpayers footing the bill to keep people locked up who have not been charged any crime other than their immigration status.


St. John’s DRIVE and other DRIVE groups are continuing to research and share information about social justice issues such as immigration. Over 50 people attended the recent forum. Those who want to get involved through St. John’s can contact Lynne Lammbert at  For information on DRIVE visit their website at

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