Tag Archives: Detroit

Hundreds of Letters to ICE: Save Rranxburgaj Family

Colorful copies of written pleas tied to ICE fence in face of agency’s silence

Supporters of an Albanian American family currently in sanctuary in a Detroit church delivered more than 700 letters to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office on Jefferson. The letters ask that ICE officials grant a Stay of Removal to Ded Rranxburgaj (RAHNS-bur-guy), the sole caregiver to his wife, Flora who is stricken with Multiple Sclerosis. The illness has confined Flora to a wheelchair. Copies of the letters on colored paper were left on the agency’s fence in the face of ICE’s stony silence in response to the hundreds of people asking that the Rranxburgaj family to be spared.

“We’ve received letters from children as young as 6, and people as old as 92,” said Caitlin Homrich-Knieling, organizer at Michigan United, “We’ve received letters from people from all over the world, from Christians, Muslims, and Jews. From brain surgeons, teachers, and high schools students. It’s been incredible seeing how everyone supports this family, and wants them to stay together.”

Among the letters were pleas for the Director of the Detroit ICE Field Office, Rebecca Adducci, to “open her heart” and “do what’s right,” quotes from the Statue of Liberty, and personal stories from people whose loved ones have MS.

 “Like Flora, my son Josh has MS,” said the letter from Pastor Alan Casillas, Pastor of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Imlay City, “MS is a terrible disease that steals away a person’s mobility. As a father who has a son with MS, I cannot imagine being deported and leaving my son to fend for himself or leaving him in the care of others. I can only imagine how scary the thought of being deported must be on Ded, Flora, Lorenc, and Eric.”

Photo courtesy Cherie Horrigan-Happy
Photo courtesy Cherie Horrigan-Happy

“Rebecca Adducci must give Ded a stay of removal, it’s the only moral thing to do.” said Rev. Jill Zundell, Pastor of Central United Methodist Church. “It has been 8 weeks that the family has been living in sanctuary, and it has been very, very hard on them. Every day that passes, Ded wonders if ICE is going to force him to abandon his wife and sons. But they deserve, like any American family, to be free and to have peace. Especially in their time of need, while Flora’s MS is getting worse. What ICE is doing, continuing to threaten Ded’s deportation, isn’t right. The Field Director of ICE, Rebecca Adducci, has the opportunity right now to be the light in their time of darkness by giving Ded a Stay of Removal. If she doesn’t, ICE is heartless.”

An immigrant facing deportation, Ded Rranxburgaj declared sanctuary at Central United Methodist Church, along with his wife, in January. The Rranxburgaj family, originally from Albania, has been living in the United States for 17 years. During those years, Ded has worked tirelessly at a local restaurant and in construction to support his family. His older son, Lorenc, attends the University of Michigan Dearborn, and his younger son, Eric, attends Southgate High School. Flora, fell ill with Multiple Sclerosis 11 years ago, and Ded has cared for her ever since.

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Rep. Luis Gutierrez holds town hall with Dreamers in Southwest Detroit

Congressman takes stand for DACA recipients, immigrant families under attack

US Representative Luis Gutierrez (D-IL4) made several stops around Detroit Friday ahead of his keynote address at the People’s Governor Forum. First he went to the Central United Methodist church to meet the Rranxburaj family who has taken sanctuary there to avoid deportation. Next, he went to the Arab American museum in Dearborn where he discussed the fight against a Muslim ban with an audience from the predominantly Muslim community. His last stop was a El Nacimiento restaurant where he held a town hall meeting and sat on a panel with DACA recipients to talk about how the debate over the Dream Act would impact their lives and the lives of their families.

“You know what the ransom is. It’s not the wall. They offered him $25 billion dollars for the wall. He wants to end legal immigration to the United States of America.” Rep. Gutierrez told the audience in an opening statement. “They want us to pick and choose among ourselves… That is going to be unacceptable because we are going to stand and fight for this immigration system we have in the United States.”

Gutierrez said President’s Trump’s promise to “Make America great again” only serves to send America back into its dark past. “He wants to see women back in the kitchen; He’d like to see gay people go back in the closet. He’d like to see black people in the back of the bus and us, Latinos, ‘Just shut up. Don’t even exist. You’re nothing. You don’t get a vote.’ That’s what we’re confronting.”

IMG_8738Gutierrez sat with Xochitl Cossyleon and Maria Ibarra, two area DACA recipients, to field questions about the state of the Dream Act, proposed legislation that would make protections for immigrant youth permanent.

IMG_8730Ibarra sees an intersection between immigration and the criminal justice system. She wants to break down barriers between immigrant communities and other communities of color. “Divide and conquer is an actual tactic that works. So we have to be strategic and build relationships and understand that our fights and our plights are connected.”

IMG_8722Cossyleon feels it is important to continue to hold Democrats feet to the fire on the Dream Act. “You need to support us when it counts with your votes.” said Cossyleon. “If we can’t count on Democrats who say they are with us, then turn flakey when we need them the most, then what are we going to do?”

Gutierrez, Dingell and Lawrence visit immigrant family in sanctuary

Representatives call for stay of removal to keep Rranxburgaj family together

Three members of Congress visited an immigrant facing deportation, Ded Rranxburgaj, and his wife, Flora Rranxburgaj, this afternoon at Central United Methodist Church, where the Rranxburgaj family has taken sanctuary from deportation. They were joined by Cindy Garcia. The Congresspeople and Garcia met with the family and church leaders, publicly asking ICE to give Ded a Stay of Removal.

“The Rranxburgaj family’s story shows us just how broken this immigration system is,” said Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL4). “Ded Rranxburgaj has tried to get legal permanent status and he is an asset to his community and his family and should be able to get status here.  But instead, our immigration bureaucracy and deportation machine are undermining American families and communities.  ICE should grant him a Stay of Removal, at the very least. His family needs him.”

“We need to have comprehensive immigration reform,” said Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI12) who represents the Downriver Detroit area where the Rranxburgaj family has lived for the past 14 years. “This is a family that is being torn apart. Flora’s Multiple Sclerosis requires that someone provide intensive care for her every single day, and that person is Ded. He has been trying to gain legal status for years, and we must have processes that deal with very human situations like this. I am committed to working with Congressman Gutiérrez and colleagues on both sides of the aisle to pass comprehensive immigration reform.”

“The immigration system that we have here in the United States is broken. We must take action where needed to build a system that truly defines our country as a nation of immigrants,” said Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-MI14). “Ded is a man who has lived here for 17 years, worked hard, paid his taxes, cared for his family, and does not represent a threat to society. Families like the Rranxburgaj’s need to have an avenue to get legal permanent status. Until we find a comprehensive fix, ICE must grant Ded a Stay of Removal.”

“We have been here for 45 days, and every day is terrifying,”  said Ded Rranxburgaj.  “Just two weeks ago, my wife Flora had a medical emergency and we had to call 911. An ambulance took her to the hospital and she had to go to the hospital with volunteers, since the boys were at school.  I had to stay here. That was really difficult.  I can’t imagine how ICE expects me to abandon her here. She would be alone, struggling. This is what MS is and my wife needs me. My family needs me. I vowed before God to take care of her in sickness and in health, and I will not abandon her.”

“I am very appreciative of all the people from the church who have taken care of us and who have written letters to ICE, asking them to not rip our family apart,” said Flora Rranxburgaj. “It would be a death sentence for me if they deport my husband. I need him and it is too horrible to think about if they deport him.”

“I am glad that Representatives Lawrence, Dingell, and Gutierrez have stepped up to support this family,” said Rev. Jill Zundel, pastor of the church. “I wish we’d see this sort of leadership from all of Michigan’s elected officials. This family and our church are being leaders in the fight for comprehensive immigration reform, and any representative who wants a solution to our broken immigration system should be looking to Ded and Flora’s courage and vision for guidance.”

“Deportation is never a solution. It only creates more problems,” said Cindy Garcia, whose husband’s deportation on MLK Day, January 16th, creating waves of disgust across the U.S.  “When they deported my husband, it devastated me and my children, and that is having a ripple effect in our community. ICE is targeting people who should not be deported, good family-oriented people who are needed in their communities. The Rranxburgaj family needs to stay together, and so do all immigrant families. There should be a pathway for people like us to apply for citizenship, and that pathway doesn’t exist right now.” Garcia is using her situation to create a non-profit to assist families who are being torn apart by deportation.

“The Albanian Community stands behind the Rranxburgaj family, and we appreciate the support of Central United Methodist Church and Congresspeople Gutierrez, Lawrence, and Dingell,” said Father Ndue Gjergji, priest of Our Lady of Albanians Catholic Church in Southfield. “We hope that ICE can see how terrible it would be to tear this family apart, and choose to keep them together instead.”

The Rranxburgaj family, originally from Albania, has been living in the United States for 17 years. During those years, Ded has worked tirelessly at a local restaurant and in construction to support his family. His older son, Lorenc, attends the University of Michigan Dearborn, and his younger son, Eric, attends Southgate High School. His wife, Flora, fell ill with Multiple Sclerosis 11 years ago, and Ded takes care of her. They have been living in the church for 45 days, since they declared sanctuary on January 17th, 2018.

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.”

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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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.

8 arrested in civil disobedience protesting end of DACA protections

Immigrant youth refuse to return to shadows, citizen allies reject white supremacy

Residents held a heartfelt and tearful rally in Kalamazoo’s Bronson Park Tuesday as immigrant youth of Movimiento Cosecha called for solidarity with the 11 million people who are undocumented in the country and described how President Trump’s decision to rescind Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) would impact their lives and families. Afterwards, they marched to Michigan avenue and Westnedge street where Eight citizen allies, who identify as white, were were arrested evening for blocking the intersection. The citizen allies used their white privilege in the act of civil disobedience to risk arrest in order to amplify the message of the risk that DACA & undocumented families make everyday to live in the United States.

Christine Lewis, co-Director of West Michigan Michigan United said, “For us as citizens who are white, we want to take up our responsibility to fight white supremacy; and that means taking risks,” Lewis said. “The point of the arrests was to show fellow white folks what it means to take action and invite people in.” It was one of many actions hosted across the state by Michigan United as they pushed for a legislative solution to the crisis Trump has created.

Nelly Fuentes of Moviemento Cosecha Kalamazoo and Pro-Kzoo said “This decision would be the height of cruelty: It’s an attempt to score political points by separating families and disrupting schools and workplaces across the country, it’s vile and the Kalamazoo community will not stand for blatant racist and cruel policy. We stand with all DACA recipients and the 11 million undocumented people living in this country.”

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Earlier at Rep. Dave Trott’s (R-MI 11) district office in Troy, Michigan, several DACA recipients spoke to a crowd of about a hundred gathered to urge the congressman to endorse legislation that would replace the popular program.  “DACA has done so much good for our immigrant youth and families and so many people want to see it continue, I don’t know why our President is listening to this tiny racist minority,” said Michigan United immigrant rights organizer and DACA recipient Adonis Flores. “Thank God for checks and balances! The American Hope or Dream act would be better solutions anyway.”

That afternoon, another hundred protesters gathered outside Western International High School as the first day of classes let out. Many of the college plans of seniors in this predominantly immigrant community could be put on hold if a replacement isn’t found when the protections it offers expire in six months.

Alondra Alvarez, a 17 year old student at the school has many friends in this situation. “I am unafraid and stand up for those who feel they don’t have a say. DACA is something that has helped so many of my peers and it hurts to know my loved ones will be affected by this.”

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State Rep. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit) also passionately described how DACA has helped young immigrants in Michigan. “Ending DACA without any guarantee of congressional action means these teachers, nurse, engineers students, first responders, members of the military are going to be ripped out of our communities and forced back into the shadows, facing at best an uncertain future and at worst potential deportation to a country they do not know.”

GR DACA heroshotBack across the state, Michigan United also took part in a vigil held in Grand Rapids at Rosa Parks Circle. The crowd of about 300 marched through the downtown until they reached Calder Plaza where they held a rally where several undocumented immigrants were able to speak. “DACA was the only thing we had.” said JP Palacios. “We had five years of progress and hope, only to see it revoked by politicians. It’s not only immoral, it goes against American values.”

Recent polling shows that most Americans support the Obama era executive action that protects undocumented immigrants who were brought into the country as minors. “DACA has done so much good for our immigrant youth and families. It has overwhelming support of both, Republicans and Democrats alike. So many people want to see it continue. Its unfortunate that this President is listening to a tiny racist minority, instead of the majority of Americans.” said Flores. “Thank God for checks and balances! The American Hope or Dream act would be better solutions anyway.”

Parents of premature & special needs children speak out against proposed healthcare bill

Repeal of ACA threatens those with pre-existing conditions, reliant on medicaid

Representative Debbie Dingell met with several children born prematurely or with special needs and their parents for a roundtable discussion of how proposed healthcare reform would affect them. Children with special needs like these will find themselves squarely in the crosshairs if the cuts to medicaid and removal of protections under the Affordable Care Act are signed into law.

“As a parent advocate and peer counselor for our hospital’s NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit), I see moms and babies every day that rely on the financial and program resources available through our health care plans.” said Vickie Korsak of  the Michigan March of Dimes  “Lack of access and coverage is nothing less of devastating to the the lives and futures of our sickest and most fragile.  The debate over lifetime limits, the definition of pre-existing conditions and the funding of Medicaid strikes terror in every parent who has had a baby born premature, ill or with a genetic condition.”

The BatesRyan Bates, the director of Michigan United and the father of a child born 14 weeks early, said, “Congress is debating taking health care away from vulnerable children so that the most fortunate among us can have a tax cut. That’s just wrong. This is generous country where we take care of each other.”

The group was joined by David Sanchez and his son Benicio, who gets autism treatment through a Medicaid funded program, and a representative of the Michigan Nurses Association.