Migladys Bermudez, site attorney for JFON Michigan, recently led a series of “Immigration 101” sessions for new recruits of the Detroit Metro Airport Police Department, as part of their broader—and required—sensitivity training. This was a joint effort by JFON Michigan’s Metro Detroit office and the Immigration Law Section of the State Bar of Michigan.
Migladys has led scores of trainings on immigration law and policies, but these, she admits, were different.
“Usually I’m making presentations to people who are interested, who aren’t going to push back,” she says. “I had to tailor these presentations to be as legal as possible and not let my personal opinion come through.”
She wasn’t there to change their minds. She was there to explain the law.
Some of it is relatively straightforward: for example, international visitors and other nonresidents can legally drive with a valid foreign driver’s license in Michigan, as most countries—including Mexico—have a treaty agreement with the state. Police officers need to keep this in mind before issuing tickets to foreign drivers.
“I tell them to keep the statute with them,” says Migladys.
Other issues are not so straightforward.
“What we created for them was an ‘Immigration is Hard’ training,” she says wryly. “Complete with hypothetical problems and possible solutions, how to deal with language or cultural barriers, and why they should approach immigrants differently than non-immigrants.”
Myth-busting, e.g., “immigrants don’t pay taxes,” and “immigrants abuse public benefits,” is also a part of Migladys’ training. And like every other group Migladys has ever encountered, the police recruits are stunned to learn how truly difficult it is to immigrate to the United States. For most would-be immigrants, it isn’t a matter of getting into line. There is no line.
Even for the 65 percent of immigrants who arrive on a family-based visa, the wait—particularly for those coming from China, India, Mexico and the Philippines—is heartbreakingly long. As of March 2020, the U.S. citizens who have petitioned for their Mexican siblings have been waiting more than 20 years—since February 15, 1998—for their family reunion.
“This is the most impactful piece of information,” says Migladys. “In every single session, this is what surprises them the most.”
“I’m not here to change your mind,” Migladys tells the recruits at the beginning of each session. “I’m here to tell you the law.”
Perhaps telling them the law—the realities of the law— is enough.