Between the Lines: Meeting Immigrant Neighbors

Apr 28, 2017

Youth hold a banner during a news conference before boarding a bus as part of the We Belong Together Kids Caravan, Monday, April 10, 2017, in Miami.
Credit Lynne Sladky / AP Photo

Few topics today get people as fired up as immigration and refugees. Whatever side of the fence you're on, there’s likely a neighbor on the other side, a neighbor you may or may not know. In the new Immigration & Justice for Our Neighbors Anthology (Celery City Books, 2016), Jennifer Clark and Miriam Downey wanted to make the unknown a little more familiar.


According to the organization’s website, Justice For Our Neighbors (JFON) West Michigan is a "ministry of hospitality" in Grand Rapids, Holland, Kalamazoo, and Traverse City that welcomes immigrants by providing affordable, high-quality immigration legal services. It also advocates for immigrant rights and offers education to communities of faith and the public.

“JFON has 35 offices around the country,” says Miriam Downey. “The headquarters for JFON West Michigan is in Grand Rapids, but there is a clinic located in Kalamazoo at the First United Methodist Church.”

Credit JFON West Michigan

Downey says that it takes about $64,000 a year to run the Kalamazoo office. Much of that comes from donations.

“Michigan is home to 616,000 immigrants, or 6.2 percent of the state’s population,” Downey says. “Undocumented immigrants in Michigan pay $125.9 million in Michigan state and local taxes, and Michigan would lose $3.8 billion in economic activity, $1.7 billion in gross state product, and approximately 20,000 jobs if the undocumented immigrants were removed.”

Facing the unknown, as immigrants and refugees do coming to a new country, requires courage. But that can also be true for those who would welcome them, says Jennifer Clark.(P) “You’re stepping into territory where it might be uncomfortable. You have different styles of dressing, different foods, everything can be different.”

Clark and Downey say their goal in putting together the Immigration & Justice for Our Neighbors Anthology was to make the unknown more familiar. They gathered poetry and prose by many writers in western Michigan that gives voice to immigrants, refugees, and those who've welcomed them as a part of the community. The anthology also raises awareness of JFON and what it does.

“The anthology has been over a year in the making,” Clark says. “We have the poems, essays, and interviews of 36 contributors.”

Those contributors include Bonnie Jo Campbell, Buddy Hannah, Marion Boyer, Elizabeth Kerlikowske, Hedy Habra, John Rybicki, Lynn Pattison, Ted Kooser, and many others. Children from Arcadia Elementary in Kalamazoo also contributed poems.

For more information about the anthology, contact JFON West Michigan at (616) 301.7461.

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