National immigration conference opens Sunday in Detroit – The Detroit News

Detroit — The 12th annual National Immigrant Integration Conference is expected to draw national activists and elected officials to Detroit starting Sunday.

The conference, which runs through Tuesday at TCF Center, has the theme “New American Dreams” and an agenda with more than 40 sessions covering topics like the 2020 Census, education, health care, citizenship and building inclusive economies.

Immigration activists and political leaders will present alternatives to the Trump administration’s crackdown on asylum seekers and other immigrants, including the separation of thousands of children from their parents.

The conference is led by the National Partnership for New Americans and its coalition of 37 regional immigrant and refugee rights organizations. The event is co-hosted by Michigan United, Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, and ACCESS (Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services), the largest Arab American nonprofit in the nation. 

“The only way forward for us as a nation is to reject hate and prejudice and advance a fair and humane immigration system that actually works,” said Steve Choi, co-chair of the National Partnership for New Americans and executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition. “This is about much more than the immigrant and refugee community. This is about how we build a diverse and prosperous country that helps everyone.”

Who is speaking

More than 100 speakers are expected at the three-day conference, including local officials, community and national leaders.

Among them: U.S. Reps. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, and Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, D-Illinois, Michigan Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist and former HUD Secretary Julian Castro, a Democratic candidate for president.

 Alexis McGill Johnson, acting president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, is set to speak Sunday, according to the program.

In August, Planned Parenthood announced it was withdrawing from the federal Title X program, which helps fund reproductive health services to clinics throughout the country, because of a Trump administration rule on physicians.

Gilchrest is expected to help kick off a welcome session at 1 p.m. Sunday with Christine Sauvé, director of the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center; Nia Winston, president of UNITE HERE; and David Pitawanakwat of the Detroit Indigenous People’s Alliance.

Tlaib will join a panel on women’s leadership on Sunday moderated by Nadia El-Zein Tonova, director of national partnerships for ACCESS.

Other local officials and politicians planning to attend include state Sen. Stephanie Chang of Detroit, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan; City Council member Raquel Castañeda-López; former gubernatorial candidate Abdul El-Sayed and Wayne County Executive Warren Evans.

Some notable speakers on local immigration issues: Amanda Alexander, executive director of the Detroit Justice Center; Hassan Jaber, president and CEO of ACCESS; Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights; Seydi Sarr, founder and director of African Bureau for Immigration and Social Affairs; Steve Tobocman, executive director of Global Detroit; Lindsay Toczylowski, executive director of the Immigrant Defenders Law Center; and Gustavo Torres, executive director of CASA.

More: ‘Diversity clearly our strength’: Wayne Co. touts contributions of immigrants

A study on the economic impact of immigrants was released Wednesday ahead of the conference by Evans, who said diversity makes the county thrive.

“Without a doubt, the immigrant population in Wayne County is much more of a benefit to this state then even we imagined early on. It completely refutes the idea that somehow it’s problematic,” said Evans, who is expected to speak at the conference Monday morning.

Approximately 164,442 immigrants lived in Wayne County in 2017, making up 9.4% of the total population of 1.7 million.

Cultural influencers appearing at the conference include Manuel Pastor, a professor at the University of California, and Julissa Arce, a political commentator and nationally best-selling author of “My (Underground) American Dream” and “Someone Like Me.”

“As an immigrant, and formerly undocumented for more than a decade, I am excited to be in fellowship with organizers, activists, and allies who together fight for the dignity of our community each and every day,” Arce said in a statement. “Together, we can and we will win.”

Main stage sessions

•    “A New Deal for New Americans” will explore strategies and policies at the state and municipal level and a “visionary” national framework — the New American Dreams Platform — for achieving equity and shared prosperity.

•    “Deep Roots: Lessons from the Motor City” will draw from the history of the host region, this centers around conference themes of “solidarity, strength and transformation,” exploring how struggles and futures are tied together and how to work in intersectional ways to build a new movement for freedom.

•    “It’s a Global Thing” will focus on migration, refugees, economies, climate and democracy and study what domestic movements in the U.S. can learn from global partners, and what shifting U.S. leadership means on the world stage.

•   “Our Justice Journey” will celebrate the historic numbers of women — including immigrant women and women of color — making a mark in Congress, running for president and leading social justice movements.

•    “We’re Not Waiting: Integration Victories & The Economy” will “shine a spotlight on important regional, state and municipal integration victories and strategies and our economy,” officials said.

•    “Winning the Future: From Hate to Hope” will provide a strategic view toward promoting pluralism and diversity in the 2020 election and beyond.

Find the full program online at

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Twitter: @SarahRahal_

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