Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Edison series.
A dramatic increase in immigration enforcement, tightening of national immigration policies, and heated immigration rhetoric effects not only undocumented immigrants, their families, and communities, but any foreign-born person living in the United States, and most especially Latinx people, regardless of their citizenship status.
Since so much media and governmental attention has been paid to Latinx in regards to immigration, particularly to Mexicans, many Latinx feel overly-scrutinized and uncomfortable in public, says Nelly Fuentes-Donnachello, founder of Movimiento Cosecha Kzoo, a nonviolent movement fighting for permanent protection, dignity, and respect for the 11-million-undocumented immigrants in the United States.
“It’s not just the fear of ICE (Homeland Security’s Immigration Control Enforcement) that is affecting immigrants, it’s the fear of just people in general,” says Fuentes-Donnachello. “It’s the fear of being brown in this country. It doesn’t matter if you have papers or not, you automatically might be labeled as one of the undocumented immigrants that come here and steal jobs.”
Fuentes-Donnacello says that Kalamazoo residents may not have an accurate perception of how the current immigration climate is affecting immigrants in the area.
“People have a very (unclear) idea of what is happening in regards to immigration in Kalamazoo,” says Fuentes-Donnachello. “This is not Grand Rapids right? We pride ourselves to be a blue dot in a sea of red. The reality is, this is happening here, in our little neck of the woods. People are disappearing from their houses. Grandmas are being taken and not returning.”
Awareness is slowly increasing about the toll the current immigration climate is taking on communities, particularly those like Edison, which has nearly 19 percent Lantinx residents. Local residents may wonder how they can help make life less stressful for their immigrant and Latinx neighbors.
Participating in protests, writing letters, and signing petitions that support compassionate immigration policies are all meaningful activities, say representatives of Welcoming Michigan. Anna Hill, staff attorney, and Meagan Roche, West Michigan Communities Coordinator, Welcoming Michigan, both with Michigan Immigration Rights Center, and Fuentes-Donnachello, have some suggestions for helping make Kalamazoo more welcoming to immigrants:
• Apply for a Kalamazoo County identification card and use it
The Kalamazoo County Identification Card was initiated after years of planning on May 3, 2018, to help recognize all Kalamazoo County residents and “enable them to connect with public safety, civic, and community services,” according to the Kalamazoo County website.
The Kalamazoo County I.D. enables immigrants, homeless, and other disenfranchised residents to have an acceptable form of identification so they may utilize public and private services.
“Without a form of identification, a person is not recognized as a member of the community and not afforded the same opportunities as other community members,” states the website. “Having a form of credible identification enables people to become fully participating members of the community.”
According to Roche, who uses her own Kalamazoo County I.D. to cash checks and apply for credit cards, use of the card by more county residents helps legitimize the I.D. and de-stigmatize its use for those who must rely upon it as the only form of proper identification.
More information about applying for the card can be found here
• Volunteer or donate to organizations that support immigrants
Some local support groups are Movimiento Cosecha Kzoo, El Concilio (formerly the Hispanic American Council) and Justice For Our Neighbors, an immigration safe haven and legal support organization sponsored by the United Methodist Church. These organizations work closely with immigrants, providing legal and social services. Movimento Cosecho Kzoo is currently forming a Rapid Response Team, much like the ones that exist in other cities, including Grand Rapids, to assist undocumented immigrants and their families in the aftermath of detainment.
Contact these organizations to see how you can help:
Movimento Cosecho Kzoo
El Concilio Kalamazoo
Justice for Our Neighbors Kalamazoo
• Have some fun: Attend festivals
Get to know your Latinx neighbors by attending one of the many annual local festivals, such as Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead), sponsored by El Concilio, or the Hispanic Heritage Fiesta on Sept. 15, sponsored by Despierta Kalamazoo, Have some food, enjoy the music and the vibrant culture, and make a few friends.
Theresa Coty O'Neil is a Kalamazoo area freelance writer. Her articles have appeared in many local publications and her short stories have been published in Alaska Quarterly Review and West Branch, among others. She is the Project Editor for On the Ground Edison.
Southwest Michigan Second Wave’s “On the Ground Edison” series amplifies the voices of Edison Neighborhood residents. Over three months, Second Wave journalists will be embedded in the Edison Neighborhood to explore topics of importance to residents, business owners, and other members of the community. To reach the editor of this series, Theresa Coty-O’Neil, please email her here
or contact Second Wave managing editor Kathy Jennings here
The On the Ground program is made possible by funding from a coalition of funders found here.