By Sen. Jim Runestad
23rd Senate District
he United States, like every nation on earth, has immigration laws. The reason these laws exist is because every nation — at least in theory — recognizes that to protect the interests of their citizenry, there must be limits and criteria in the admission of new immigrants. Ensuring that newcomers do not become public charges has been an explicit goal of U.S. immigration policies since the late 19th century.
Under policies put in place by the Biden administration, these laws have been rendered meaningless. Since Jan. 20, 2021, there have been essentially no deterrents or penalties for entering the United States illegally, remaining here illegally, or abusing our asylum policies.
The administration has even gone so far as to weaken the rules that prevent people who are not citizens from relying on public assistance. Predictably, 10 million people, from some 170 nations, have entered the United States illegally over the past three years, endangering national security, disrupting communities, and straining resources to the breaking point.
The impact on states and communities has been most acute in places that have adopted formal or de facto sanctuary policies. These policies create incentives for newly arriving migrants to take up residence in places that offer the most generous packages of benefits and services.
Sadly, under Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Michigan has not only made our state a magnet for people seeking to enter the country illegally but has put their interests ahead of those of some of our most disadvantaged citizens.
Michigan has the dubious distinction of having one of the highest poverty rates in the nation. In 2022, 13.4% of people residing in our state lived below the poverty line, compared with the national average of 11.5%. Yet, even as the state was struggling to address this existing poverty crisis, Michigan experienced a 42% increase in number of asylum seekers (the majority of whom are actually people who are here illegally abusing our asylum system) taking up residence.
In nearly all instances, these new migrants arrive destitute, and many are deeply in debt to the criminal cartels that smuggle them to the United States. As we have seen, upon entering the United States illegally, migrants disproportionally head to locations that offer the most generous accommodations.
Failing to learn from the harsh lessons of places like New York and Chicago, Whitmer has decided to roll out the welcome mat. For example, early last year, the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA) Board initiated the Newcomer Rental Subsidy (NRS) program. Under the program, MSHDA is committing $4 million earmarked for the housing needs of “refugees and other immigrant populations coming to the state.”
However well-meaning the NRS program may be, it overlooks the undeniable reality that there are many citizens in Michigan who are homeless or struggling to find affordable housing, whose needs are now taking a back seat to those of newly arrived migrants. The program also ignores the reality that providing significant housing subsidies to them does not fix the problem; it makes it worse. To paraphrase the tagline from the classic movie “Field of Dreams,” if you build it or subsidize it, they will come.
And come they have. By 2023’s end, The Detroit News reported that shelters in our state’s largest city were being “overwhelmed” by the number of migrants, just as the harsh Michigan winter began to set in. In addition to more places to house the growing migrant population, service providers are calling for more resources to assist with food needs, health care, education and other essentials.
No one is blaming human beings for having human needs. Culpability for this crisis rests with the Biden administration, which has essentially opened our borders, and with the Whitmer administration, which has opened up our state coffers to people who entered the country illegally.
Rather than incentivizing more migrants to settle in Michigan and compete with our own poor for scarce resources, our state leadership should be at the vanguard of the effort to persuade President Biden to control our borders, enforce our immigration laws, and halt the abuse of our asylum policies.
Until such time as this administration, or a future one, decides to end the madness at the border, it is incumbent on state and local officials to do all in their power to protect the people they represent. Michigan officials do not have the authority to secure our international borders, but we do have the responsibility to adopt policies that minimize the impact of rampant illegal immigration on our state.
Our governor and her administration are doing precisely the opposite, to the detriment of the people of Michigan.
This op-ed appeared in the Jan. 18, 2024 edition of The Detroit News. State Sen. Jim Runestad, R-White Lake, represents Michigan’s 23rd District.