(WLNS) – Leaders across Michigan gathered to discuss the open doors towards immigrants and refugees in the state, and continuing to improve efforts.
Michigan has 12 welcoming cities and counties in the state, the most in the nation, a statistic leaders say benefits everyone.
“Those relationships and exchanges that happen really help broaden our world just beyond our mitten state,” Welcoming Michigan Program Coordinator Christine Sauve said.
In Lansing, faith based groups and city officials say welcoming immigrants and refugees has a positive impact on culture, business and the economy.
“It’s very mutually beneficial, it’s a win-win situation,” St. Vincent Catholic Charities Refugee Services Director Judi Harris said.
But there are road blocks that make it hard for immigrants to make America feel like home.
“If you’re an immigrant coming from a different country, you have to first be able to speak the language,” Daughter of immigrants from Mexico Izamar Contreras said.
Contreras’ family came to Michigan from Mexico in the seventies, and although her family started a business, and she just graduated from college, she says there is still a stigma with welcoming people from outside the country inside.
“We’re scared of people who are different than us and I don’t think it should be like that,” Contreras said.
In a recent Michigan-based poll from Epic MRA, 49% of people say immigrants strengthen the country, 31% say they are a burden.
Despite the line between support and opposition, Mayor Virg Bernero says fear is not an excuse for turning people away.
“Especially in dangerous times we cannot afford to close our hearts, to close our minds and indeed close our borders,” Mayor Bernero said.
Michigan has the second highest amount of refugees in the country.