By Anthony Gladden
The non-profit Michigan Immigrant Rights Center seems small and quiet from the outside. But inside, big smiles and an energetic vibe from the staff make a stranger feel at home.
Play sets for toddlers fill the room and it’s a challenge not to step on or knock anything over. For the adults, helpful books fill shelves that occupy the other part of the room. Still more shelves are filled ceiling-high with case work dating back to 1997.
The walls are lined with photographs of former clients, pictures with inspirational sayings and information on different ways to seek legal justice for immigrants. Placed throughout the building, like pleasant surprises, are small metal statues of Hispanic peoples.
The mission of MRIC is to help immigrants attain equal treatment in Michigan by providing them with types of work that would be difficult for them to obtain by themselves because of discrimination.
The Kalamazoo office of MRIC is a branch of the Ann Arbor headquarters and receives funds from the Ford and Kellogg foundations. The Kalamazoo location is one of many located on the west side of the state. The Detroit office is the busiest.
Lillie Wolff, the advocacy coordinator of the Kalamazoo location, coordinates the West Michigan activities of MIRC’s statewide grassroots immigrant integration initiative called “Welcoming Michigan.” Its purpose is to work in communities in Michigan to be move welcoming of immigrants.
“We’re working to make our communities in Michigan more welcoming,” Wolff says. “More immigrant friendly.” To do this, Wolff and members of her team go to communities and make people aware of the rise in immigrant living in Michigan.
Susan Reed, the supervising attorney for the organization, works with staff in Kalamazoo and Ann Arbor on cases that have broad impact. In addition, she handles her own cases on immigration law work. Reed specializes in helping serve the rights of unaccompanied immigrant children and immigrant eligibility for public benefits.
“I just have my hands on everything, I do a lot of speaking around the state on immigrant rights,” Reed says. “The impact they have on our community collectively.”
Jose Rosa, legal secretary of the MRIC’s farm workers law services, has worked here since 2009. Rosa specializes in providing legal advice to those who qualify for help under the farm workers’ law. This includes those are farm workers or children of farm workers, low income residents or migrant homeworkers. Those who qualify come to seek help finding jobs, homes or both.