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Susan Reed


Michigan Immigrant Rights Center

420 N. Fourth Ave.
Ann Arbor, Michigan 48104
Supervising attorney Susan Reed is inspired by the strength and resiliency of her clients at the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center. The center is creating a more equal future for all children and building a base of support for immigrants in the communities where they live. 
Michigan Nightlight: What does being a leader mean to you?
Michigan Immigrant Rights Center Supervising Attorney Susan Reed: My relationships with inspiring community advocates and attorneys across the state are such a source of joy and meaning in my work. To me, being a leader means offering that network of amazing people every possible opportunity to be even better connected, better informed, and more energized in their work. 
What is your dream for kids?
We serve immigrant children and the children of immigrants, and my dream for them is equality. We see so many examples
...we’re meeting people from all walks of life who are ready to think about immigration not in “us vs. them” terms, but as a “making the pie bigger” kind of phenomenon that can mean a better life for all of us.
of situations where kids who are immigrants or children of immigrants don’t have the same access to services kids who were born here have.
We’re fighting very hard on behalf of U.S. citizen children who are supposed to benefit from child support, but in order for parents to claim child support the parent has to prove their immigration status. I can’t think of anything the child has less control over than that. The non-custodial parent has paid it, the state has it, but it’s not being released, and that sets the child back for the rest of their life. Those are issues that we think about when we think about the inequality that immigrants and the children of immigrants are dealing with. Our dream is to put ourselves out of business. With Welcoming Michigan we’re taking a step back from policy and recognizing and capitalizing on the spirit of support in receiving communities for that kind of equality and that kind of respect. It’s fun to be able to do that work because I feel like it’s not just reacting to bad things: that work is saying “we don’t have the critical mass of support in the country that we need, and we’re working on building that critical mass of support.”
What is one concrete thing that could be done to improve the environment for social sector work in Michigan?
Everyone doing social sector work needs high-quality, anti-racist and racial equity organizational development and individual professional development to better understand how race and racism are part of the problems that we’re trying to solve. Our staff has been fortunate to have ERAC/CE [Eliminating Racism And Claiming/Celebrating Equality] and the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion facilitate this work for us. 
How do you know you’re making progress?
It’s really hard to tell, because the law and policy that affects immigrants and the children of immigrants is changing all the time at every level. Every change has ripple effects and we spend a lot of time reacting to those changes. But, this year, we launched our Welcoming Michigan initiative, which seeks to build mutual respect between foreign-born and U.S.-born Michiganders. The positive response we’re getting tells me that we are making progress. We’re the only state that lost
...parents sometimes spend months in jail, lose custody of their children, and can ultimately be deported away from those children forever.
population in the last census. I think partly because of that, we’re meeting people from all walks of life who are ready to think about immigration not in “us vs. them” terms, but as a “making the pie bigger” kind of phenomenon that can mean a better life for all of us. Among many others, the initiative is strongly supported by State Rep. Rashida Tlaib and former State Rep. Steve Tobocman, who are Democrats, and is also endorsed by Governor Rick Snyder, who is a Republican. That feels like progress.
What are you most proud of?
I am extremely proud of the work that we’re doing right now with all of our coalition partners in the Michigan Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights who are providing high-quality, low-cost immigration legal services to young immigrants across the state who may be eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA, also known as “DREAM Deferred Action” program).  We came together very quickly and very effectively to develop a plan to deliver an incredibly valuable and desperately needed service to thousands of young people. We’re not there yet, but we’re doing it. By working together, we’re going to help many more people than we could have alone, and I’m extremely proud of the role our organization is playing in coordinating service delivery.
What keeps you awake at night?
I’m often awake at night thinking about my clients who are separated from their children due to deportation or detention. We represent survivors of domestic violence who are usually mothers of very young children. Often, their spouses or partners are U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents who are exploiting immigration issues to keep their victims vulnerable. We can’t represent everyone, we don’t always win, and we don’t always win right away. So, parents sometimes spend months in jail, lose custody of their children, and can ultimately be deported away from those children forever. I know how privileged I am to have my own three-year-old daughter sleeping soundly in the next room when I have one of these cases on my mind.
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