State grants help integrate newcomers

LANSING — Over $700,000 in new state grants is funding projects at ethnic organizations aimed at supporting refugees, humanitarian parolees, asylum seekers and immigrants.

The grants to help integrate newcomers into their communities are funded primarily by the Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity recently allocated New Michigander Fund money and in part by federal dollars.

Immigrants make up a growing share of the state’s population, representing 7% in 2018, according to American Immigration Council Data.

Michigan is also taking in an increasing number of refugees each year. The state received 1,143 in 2022, 10th per capita nationally, according to Department of Homeland Security data.

Labor and Economic Growth Opportunity describes Michigan as “the state of choice for many newcomer populations” and said in a press release that nonprofit groups help thousands of newcomers each year.

One grant recipient, Farmworker Legal Services, will use its $50,000 grant to expand its education and oversight to the Upper Peninsula, an area the Grand Rapids-based nonprofit previously could not reach.

Staff plans to visit farmworker housing camps – occupied primarily by new immigrants and people with temporary work visas – to inform workers of their rights and inspect the facilities for safety and compliance with state standards.

“We know there’s a lack of information and support for farmworkers up in the Upper Peninsula,” said staff attorney Dorian Slaybod. “But we haven’t had the resources to go up there before and see what these camps look like and make sure they’re really safe.”

The encampments are inspected by the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development at the start of each farming season before workers move in, Slaybod said.

Once they’re filled – or overfilled – and begin to deteriorate with use throughout the season, they sometimes fall out of compliance with state standards, he said. The organization intends to inform workers of their rights and potentially alert regulators of dangerous conditions.

The agency will work from a list of farmworker housing provided by the state but also will attempt to find unlisted, unregulated farmworker encampments where workers may be more in need of legal support, he said. A Bridge Michigan investigation last year found that many dairy farm workers live in quarters unregulated by the state.

Another recipient, Grand Rapids-based nonprofit Les Clay, plans to use its $50,000 grant to provide “second step” support for immigrants coming from Africa to West Michigan.

It plans to hire additional staffers charged with educating immigrants on available services and programs, said Grace Lusamba, Les Clay’s CEO and director.

There are a lot of well-funded organizations supporting the immediate transition into America, but this project will support immigrants 2-5 years into their new lives, she said.

“Organizations are usually there the first few months to help them get settled and get jobs in factories and get kids in school,” Lusamba said. “But, quickly, those services end and people are left to figure the rest out.”

The later years of the transition can be the hardest, said Lusamba, a refugee herself.

“There’s a sense of being lost that comes after the start. We have to catch up with people who are already very established,” she said.

“People can get down and depressed. They’ll think, ‘This is not what I was promised.’ But a lot of that is just a lack of knowledge about what kinds of resources and options they can pursue,” she said.

Other grants include $50,000 each for support of Burmese immigrants in Calhoun County and Islamic Americans in Detroit, partnerships between Catholic churches and local immigrants in Northern Michigan, and Latin American immigrants in Allegan, Kent, Ottawa and Van Buren counties.


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