Category Archives: Press Release

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The People’s Governor Candidate Forum

62 coalition partners announce non-partisan forum for March 3rd in Detroit
Will feature special guest Congressman Luis Gutierrez

An unprecedented coalition of more than 60 organizations so far has announced they will hold the next gubernatorial candidate forum at Detroit’s Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church at 1:00 PM on March 3, 2018. The People’s Governor Forum: Transforming Michigan’s Future will offer voters the opportunity to hear directly from candidates on issues that directly affect their lives.

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“We are going to demand that the politicians come to us early, and that they listen to our community’s needs,” said  Co-chair Rev. Deedee Coleman, President of the Council of Baptist Pastors of Detroit & Vicinity. “We want them to address our bold agenda for a prosperous, healthy future for all.”

Hassan Sheikh, Executive Dir. Emgage
Hassan Sheikh, Executive Dir. Emgage

Co-chair Hassan Sheikh, Executive Director of Emgage announced that the People’s Governor Candidate Forum will feature Congressman Luis Gutierrez of Illinois. “Congressman Gutierrez has been a champion for working people, for immigration reform, and a voice for those who have been marginalized and left out.” said Sheikh. “The Congressman will get us fired up, and outline the values we hope that candidates will embody.

The candidates confirmed to attend so far include Democrats Abdul El-Sayed, Gretchen Whitmer and Bill Cobbs, as well as Republican Patrick Colbeck. The group has invited candidates from all parties who have submitted 15,000 nominating petition signatures to the Secretary of State or drawn at least 5% support in an independent non-partisan statewide poll by February 19th. They will be challenged to address issues of  poverty, inequality, and racism. Co-chair said the group has decided on 6 topics for the night: criminal justice reform, environmental justice, education, care, immigration and workers rights.

Gov forum announcement from Michigan United on Vimeo.

“We’re going to bring real people, workers, families, people of faith, child care providers and immigrants, to speak truth to power.” Said Co-chair Dr. Louis Forsythe of Pleasant Grove Missionary Baptist Church.

The candidate forum’s audience quickly outgrew its first venue and was moved to Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church where the sanctuary holds 2,400 with a quiet room for childcare.

Sanctuary of the Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church
Sanctuary of the Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church

Buses have already been reserved to bring voters from Grand Rapids, Lansing, and Macomb County. “When we join together, the candidates will know that they have to deal  with us collectively.” Said Co-chair Freddy Polanco of the SEIU.

You can see a list of member organizations and reserve a seat with a free ticket on the Michigan United website. Registration is required.

Translation into Spanish and child supervision are available.

Federal court rules lawsuit against Marathon refinery may proceed

Residents will soon have day in court to address nuisance concerns

A US district court has rejected a motion to dismiss a lawsuit brought against Marathon Petroleum Corporation, clearing the way for a “Private Nuisance, Strict Liability and Negligence” lawsuit to proceed on behalf of residents of Southwest Detroit. Judge Sean Cox agreed with an earlier circuit court ruling that found there was “sufficient factual allegations to survive a motion to dismiss.”

The suit essentially charges Marathon with nuisance claims including, but not limited to, odor issues and a negative impact on residents’ quality of life. The company bought out the homes of many residents in a predominantly white neighborhood, starting in 2011, when it expanded its refinery but but did not make the same offer to a black community that also borders its facility.

Impacted residents have been organized by Michigan United in their fight against the oil giant and are relieved by the news. “Having our lawsuit move forward is very uplifting.” said John Atkins, a lifetime resident in the heavily polluted 48217 zip code. “At least the court is willing to hear our story.”

With the motion to dismiss hurdle now successfully cleared, the next step is a conference with both parties scheduled for February 13, 2018 at 2:30 p.m.

“I’m glad about it,” said Lura Taylor, who lives on the street closest to Marathon. “We are going to push forward and go all the way.  We have God on our side.”

Grand Rapids immigrant rights advocates respond to SOTU address

A clean Dream Act must be the focus

Members of the West Michigan Coalition for Immigration Reform gathered the day after President Trump’s State of the Union address to react to the proposed policies he presented. Trump wants to make aid for immigrant youth known as “Dreamers” to be dependent on increased border security and reduced legal migration. Advocates who spoke Wednesday at the Iglasia Misionaera de Cristo church disagree.

“We want a clean Dream Act, separate from the rest of President Trump’s immigration reforms.” said Rev. Justo Gonzalez. “As a man of faith, I stand on the side of justice. While we applaud the president’s path to citizenship for these young people, we are concerned that it will be done on the backs of other immigrants.”

While the President’s proposal increases the number of eligible participants under the Obama era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program  from about 800 thousand to 1.8 million, the path to citizenship would take more than a decade to complete. At the same time, opportunities for family reunification would be reduced by preventing American citizens and Legal Permanent Residents from sponsoring their parents and adult children to get family visas, despite the long arduous process that often takes years or decades. In addition Trump is seeking to end the diversity visa lottery that offers a limited number of visas from countries that don’t normally immigrate to the U.S.

“We need to stop being afraid of speaking out.” said Daniel Corecheo, one of the many DACA recipient in danger of losing protections before the program expires completely in March. “We have been afraid to speak out up until now. We have been afraid of losing the little that we have, but if we don’t stand up now, we will lose everything.”

Michigan Senators stand with immigrant youth, vote against budget without DREAM Act

Trump’s rejection of bipartisan compromise results in shutdown

Both of Michigan’s US Senators have sided with immigrant youth in the federal budget battle. Senators Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow, after much pressure and consideration, have decided not to support a budget resolution that does not include protections for “Dreamers”, undocumented immigrants who were brought here as children by their parents. The DREAM Act, an amendment that would codify protections offered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, is popular among the overwhelming majority of Americans, but sadly, not with Republican leadership in the House, Senate nor the Oval Office.

Despite having publicly said “Bring me a deal. I’ll sign it. I’ll take the heat.”, President Trump has twice rejected bipartisan deals brought to him. This is because he has deferred to extremists in his party who would not accept the DREAM Act under any circumstances. As a result, the GOP has decided they would rather shut down than government than accept any compromise

It wasn’t until hours before the deadline for the government shutdown that Sens. Peters and Stabenow conceded how futile negotiations had become. What would another month extension change for the extremists who won’t accept a bipartisan compromise?

We at Michigan United commend Sen. Debbie Stabenow and Sen. Gary Peters for choosing to stand with immigrant youth and their families and against racist policy. We look forward to the day that our nation’s leaders come to their senses and we can agree to reopen the government and restore protections for immigrant youth.

Michigan activists among 25 arrested in Washington DC for a clean Dream Act

Groups from across nation converged on five most racist opponents

The fight to include legislation to protect immigrant youth reached a fever pitch Thursday as 25 people decided to be arrested rather than quietly allow Dreamers to slip back into the shadows to live in fear of deportation again. Member organizations of the Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM) sent activists to the offices of the five most racist opponents of the Dream Act, legislation that would codify Deferred Action for Childhood arrivals (DACA).

A 20 person strong delegation went into the office of Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) to insist he end his opposition to the widely popular, bipartisan DREAM ACT. When they were told a meeting could not be arranged at that time, the delegation began a sit-in protest. Capitol police moved them into the hallway where they began chanting outside Sen. Cotton’s door. When they were told to disperse, five people held their ground and continued to speak out until they were arrested.

Arkansas resident, Gabriel Lopez along with four allies from Michigan United and Cosecha, Rosa Fraga, Lorena Aguyo-Marquez, Patrick Wigent and Kathleen Underwood were taken into custody but soon released and fined. Although his staff claimed they couldn’t schedule a meeting before the five were arrested, Sen. Cotton agreed to meet with DACA recipients from Arkansas by the time they got out.

“I’m doing this because Cesar Chavez, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other leaders fought for my rights and now it’s my duty to fight for the civil rights of others like the Dreamers.” said Fraga. “If we don’t get a clean Dream Act here, a lot of young immigrants are going to lose out on jobs and educational opportunities before March.” She said of the final day of the DACA program. “But even though it’s really popular, our congresspeople don’t seem to want to give it to us. That’s why we’re here. To stand up for the people and give voice to the voiceless.”

“Republicans control Congress and the white house it’s their responsibility to govern and represent their constituents.” said Aguayo-Marquez “The overwhelming majority of Americans, over 80%, support a DREAM Act bill, including more than 60% of Trump voters. It’s time for Congress to do the right thing and pass a clean DREAM Act. Everyday that goes by more families that would qualify get separated, like the Garcia family. Congress must stop caving in to the demands of the most extreme white supremacists and actually do what the Majority of Americans want, which is to pass a clean DREAM Act and pass a budget to keep the government open. That’s why I am risking arrest.”

Immigration officials work through MLK holiday to break up family

Jorge Garcia deported, bids goodbye to wife, children

The battle to keep the Garcia family together ended early Monday morning at Detroit Metropolitan airport as Jorge Garcia complied with an deportation order. This, despite the national holiday commemorating civil rights icon, Martin Luther King Jr. and movement on congress for immigration reform to codify Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Recent comments about Haitians on the anniversary of the earthquake that struck the island have compelled the President to respond to charges of racism during the King holiday.

Jorge has been a Detroit resident for 30 years since his family brought him here at the age of 10. He was just 2 years too old to qualify for DACA, but has been a exemplary member of his community on a rollercoaster like odyssey to stay here. President Trump has asked for, and received a bipartisan plan to protect “Dreamers” protected by DACA and for comprehensive immigration reform that might help Jorge. Trump’s rejection of a clean Dream Act could scuttle hopes for passage of the federal budget, resulting in a painful government shutdown.

Garcia 3Jorge’s wife, Cindy was told he wouldn’t be allowed to return home for a decade. Still, she keeps hope alive that they will not be separated that long. “We’re going to pray and get him back fast, faster than this paperwork that gave him a 10 year bar.”

Cindy thanked every who got up before dawn to give much needed support, friends, activists and her union brothers and sisters. “I don’t see the justice in this.” said AJ Freer of UAW 600. “For a man who cares deeply and supports his family, obeys the law, pays taxes and has a history of helping others, I think ICE and the Federal Government of the United States acted cruelly to this family.” Bruised but unbowed, Freer vowed “Now we fight to get him back.”

Immigrant rights advocates speak out for laborers killed in fire

Tragedy in Novi only highlights injustice nationwide

District Judge Marianne Battani’s decision last Thursday not to hold a Novi man responsible for the deaths of five young men has immigrant rights advocates outraged. The Mexican laborers, aged 16-23, were living in Roger Tam’s basement when a fire broke out, killing them all. Judge Battani sentenced Tam to 9 months in jail for hiring the men but refused to punish him for the circumstances leading to their deaths. At a press conference Tuesday outside the Levin Federal Courthouse, representatives of LaSED, NAACP, the Congress of Communities and Michigan United pointed to the incident and outcome as evidence of a system that forces millions to live and work in abject conditions while not holding accountable those responsible.

Mary Carmen headshot 3“Sadly, this is not an isolated incident.” said Mary Carmen Munoz of LaSED. “Undocumented immigrants are being exploited and abused all across the country and the perpetrators are not being held accountable. “

SAM_1645The coalition is calling for safe working and living conditions, and a livable wage for all workers whether they are immigrant, American or undocumented. ““How sad is it that the lives of these five young people could be marginalized?” Said Donnell R. White, Executive Director of the Detroit Branch of the NAACP. “Today, we call on our justices and elected officials to move legislation to prevent this from happening again and to hold those responsible to the letter of the law when it does. Today we are united as one community and one voice.”

“We will not accept hateful and divisive politics that spread fear and lies about our immigrant families.” Said Consuela Lopez, Congress of Communities. “We want real protections for all workers Americans and immigrants alike.”

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Immigrant Advocates to Michigan Senators: Vote No on Budget Measures Unless They Include DREAM Act

Protecting immigrant families a moral imperative in national priorities

On a telephonic press briefing today, Michigan immigrant rights advocates called on their US Senators not to come home without needed protections for their immigrant youth. A vote on a continuing resolution to fund the government is expected today. Advocates called on Senators Stabenow and Peters to vote no on any budget measure that does not include the DREAM Act. The continuing resolution, and the budget, will require Democratic votes to pass, and advocates believe that our Senators should demand the DREAM Act in return.

The briefing was conducted by:

Rev. Paul Perez, Detroit Conference of the United Methodist Church
Freddy Polanco, Political Director, SEIU Michigan
State Representative Stephanie Chang
Juan Gonzalez, Detroit resident & DACA recipient
Oscar Castaneda, ACTION Lansing
Richard Kessler, West Michigan Coalition for Immigration Reform

A recording of the event is available at: https://soundcloud.com/michiganunited/dreamchip-tele-press-conference#t=0:00

“I was so proud when our community won DACA. My office has helped dozens of young people apply– I could see their horizons open up, and their fears slip away, all with just a simple piece of paper.” said State Rep. Stephanie Chang. “ We should not accept a budget, or a continuing resolution, that does not reflect our values. We are urging our allies to vote no until the budget measures up.”

“The Trump Administration’s revocation of DACA has thrown the lives of younger immigrants into chaos.” said Richard Kessler, President, West Michigan Coalition for Immigration Reform. “Every day, 122 more of them lose this protected status and find they are no longer allowed them to work, pursue their education or serve in the military. We need our allies to have courage NOW, and vote no on any budget or continuing resolution without relief for immigrant youth.”

Officials, leaders, SNAP recipients outraged at cuts to program

Pending tax reform would deny children affordable, nutritional diet

As Congress rushes to pass a massive tax bill that gives billions to the large corporations and the wealthy, adding more than $1.4 trillion to the federal debt over 10 years in the process, local leaders and parents stood up to sound the alarm on how the tax bill will affect SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program)  with massive cuts in funding.

In the Panel Discussion and Open Mic, State Representative Stephanie Chang (6-Detroit) encouraged SNAP recipients to speak about how the loss of SNAP will affect their lives.

Describing her experience while working as a student intern toward her degree as a Dietitian/Nutritionist, Shayna Danto explained, “As a student intern I was working full time but receiving no income, SNAP allowed me to eat. While using my SNAP benefits I  also discovered that the Program provided provisions to make greater use of SNAP while supporting the Detroit farming community. If a SNAP recipient buys food from a local grower the benefits are doubled. This is a double win. The local farming community benefits, and SNAP recipients eat healthy nutritious food.”

Mother of four and cancer survivor, Latasha Greer described her feelings. “ With Congress rushing to pass this cruel and inhumane bill, the reality of the SNAP Program being deeply cut petrifies me. In 2015, I was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer. The treatments to cure my cancer left me so weak and sick that working was completely impossible. Our family of six was left to rely on only one paycheck. This is an impossible situation. We desperately need the SNAP Program to feed our family.”

Close to 70 percent of SNAP participants are in families with children, more than one-quarter are in households with seniors or people with disabilities. If a parent loses her job or has a job that pays low wages, SNAP can help her feed her children until she is able to improve her circumstances. 93 percent of federal SNAP spending is for food.

Millions of Americans work in jobs with low wages, unpredictable schedules and no benefits such as paid sick leave, all of which contribute to high turnover and spells of unemployment.  SNAP provides monthly benefits that help fill the gaps for workers with low and inconsistent pay and can help workers weather periods without a job.  Workers who participate in SNAP most commonly work in service occupations, such as cooks or home health aides, or sales occupations, such as cashiers, which are often jobs with low pay and income volatility.

SNAP is heavily focused on the poor. 92 percent of SNAP benefits go to households with incomes at or below the poverty line, and 57 percent go to households at or below half of the poverty line (about $10,210 for a family of three in 2017).

Pontiac Councilman Kermit Williams also expressed outrage at the proposed restrictions to the program that provides important nutritional support for low-wage working families, low-income seniors, and people with disabilities living on fixed incomes.

Michigan United applauds nomination of Lawrence Garcia as Detroit’s next Corporation Counsel

Michigan United is pleased to learn that local attorney Lawrence Garcia has been nominated for the important post of corporation counsel.

Garcia has been an important voice in the Latino community for many years. He has shown great leadership as past president of the Michigan Hispanic Bar Association and has been an advocate on important civil rights issues. Garcia has spoken out for just immigration reform and against abuses such as immigration raids at schools. He and his firm have often volunteered as civil rights monitors at the polls in Southwest Detroit, ensuring that all members of the community are able to exercise their right to vote.  He also has the strong legal background and good values that this position demands.

Mayor Duggan has made a wise choice and Lawrence Garcia will make an able public servant.