2021 Equity Challenge Day 16: Immigrants & Refugees in Southeastern Michigan

No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark.

Warsan Shire

Somalian-British writer, poet and teacher

From leaving behind a home or family to navigating a new culture, language or way of life, the challenges and trauma that immigrants and refugees endure are difficult to grasp. Though our nation’s immigration and refugee policies have evolved throughout our history, new Americans still face many systemic inequities on their journey to a better life.

From the Irish, Polish and Germans of the 19th century to the Arabs, Hispanics and South Asians of more recent generations, immigrants — people who come to a country to take up permanent residence — have played a significant role in the history of Southeastern Michigan and continue to make important contributions to the fabric of our region. More than 70 percent of our state’s 600,000 foreign-born individuals live in Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, Washtenaw and Genesee counties.

Our state has also been an important haven for refugees — people who have been forced to leave their country to escape war, persecution or natural disaster. According to a report from the Refugee Processing Center Admissions and Arrivals, Michigan trails only New York, California and Texas in terms of number of refugees resettled between 2010 and 2019.

Examining the immigrant and refugee experience reveals systemic inequities that stunt new Americans’ ability to succeed in our region. A report chartered by the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan shows that immigrant and refugee communities experience insufficient access to services like affordable housing and health care; inadequate federal support; negative public stigma (xenophobia: dislike of or prejudice against people from different countries); and a lack of a strategic plan to sustain our region’s new Michiganders. Today’s challenge helps us begin to understand the complex realities facing our immigrant and refugee communities.



Browse this infographic to become acquainted with the state of support for immigrants and refugees in Southeast Michigan.

Read this blog post titled “What Every American Should Know About the Immigrant Experience.”

Study this report to learn the crucial role that immigrants played in Southeastern Michigan’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Read this piece to learn about the centuries-long contributions of Irish, Polish, Arab and Hispanic immigrants to Southeastern Michigan.


Watch this animated video to answer to the question, “What does it mean to be a refugee?”

Reflect And Share:

  1. What information do you have access to about how immigration has played a role in your family history? Did your ancestors immigrate willingly or was their migration forced by other people or circumstances?
  2. How does your understanding of your own family history and the inequities that immigrant and refugee communities face impact how you see this community? 
  3. After reading about inequities immigrants and refugees endure, what is one way you can be a welcoming force for new Americans?


Start the conversation. Send the tweet. Share your story. Make the Facebook post. Sharing what you learn and experience with your family, friends, and co-workers is the first step toward allyship.

Join thousands in conversation by using hastag #EquityChallenge or #TakeTheEC21