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Immigration conference shows the "welcoming" side of Michigan

Syrian refugee children in Jordan enjoy a concert.

A statewide conference on making Michigan a hospitable place for immigrants was held in Lansing Monday. It’s part of the nationwide Welcoming Week, which seeks to bring together immigrants and U.S. born people in “a spirit of unity.”

This was the third annual statewide Welcoming Michigan conference. It brought together nonprofits, local government leaders, students and others to share tips and strategies for making Michigan communities more welcoming to immigrants.

Shirin Kambin-Timns is the coordinator for the Refugee and Immigrant Resource Collaborative. She said of the conference, “I think it’s an opportunity to reaffirm that this is an inclusive state that has a long history of bringing people here who have built lives and contributed to the well-being of the state.”

The conference comes after Governor Rick Snyder expressed concerns with the federal vetting process for refugees. “Even knowing where refugees are coming, the timing of that, making sure communities are prepared for it, understand the issues and concerns,” he said. “In some cases, it’s people showing up too much without enough participation from the broader community.”

But the Michigan Welcome Project disagrees. Program coordinator Christine Sauve says they have confidence in the federal screening process for refugees. Sauve says the 12-step process is very stringent and, “we’re just working with community partners to prepare a ready welcome for those newcomers.”

Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero was the opening speaker at the conference. Bernero said he was in agreement with Snyder when the governor took strong positions in favor of immigration.

“Of course they should exercise caution,” he said. “But we cannot afford to close our doors, close our hearts or close our minds to immigration because it has been one of the great strengths of this country.” 

Michigan currently has twelve cities and counties nationally designated as welcoming communities. That’s more than any other state in the country.

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