Immigration Month Essay – Aghogho Edevbie
As a Jesuit parish, we have a special connection to the recently introduced Universal Apostolic Preferences. These Preferences help guide our walk with Christ and unite us in a common mission. I want to focus on one of those Preferences, “Walking with the Excluded”, and what that has looked like in my life.
We know far too well that there are many among us who are excluded in our society – some are poor, some disabled, and some are immigrants. The immigrant experience can be one of exclusion. My parents are both examples of this. My mother and father left Nigeria because they could not realize their dreams in their native land and decided to reach for something different. They were simultaneously removing themselves from everything they had ever known and placing themselves at the mercy of a new community that was literally foreign to them. They decided to embrace a path that excluded them at two different points.
I am continually awed and humbled by their twin decisions, 51 and 37 years ago respectively, which made my life in our community possible.
The courage of their decision, and of many other immigrants, motivated me to join the board of Global Detroit. Global Detroit is a non-profit organization dedicated to keeping immigrants at the top of our region’s economic development agenda due to our central belief that immigrant inclusion can empower sustained economic growth.
In outlining the Preference of Walking with the Excluded, the Jesuits teach us that we must “desire to be more hospitable and open, learning how to live more deeply in the Spirit of Jesus, a Spirit that welcomes.” I like to think that this principle is embodied in the work we do at Global Detroit.
We teach international students how to sell themselves in the job market, pair them with mentors in their field, and help them make connections in Southeast Michigan’s corporate community. We also connect immigrants with homeownership and home repair programs, foreclosure prevention, small business support, community engagement opportunities and other critical resources. We are welcoming.
But being welcoming to those who are excluded is not only beneficial for them, it is beneficial for all of us. Jeremiah 7:5-7 outlines this point very clearly: “[I]f you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place…then I will dwell with you in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your ancestors forever and ever.”
At Global Detroit we have seen this firsthand through data and the stories of those we reach. No major metropolitan area in our country has stabilized its population without immigration since the 1960s. In our state, immigrants account for all of the population growth we have experienced in the last 30 years. Between 2000-15, our region saw an 8.5 percent decrease in the number of U.S.-born entrepreneurs, while experiencing a 38 percent increase in the number of foreign-born entrepreneurs. This increase is personified in people like Arafat Hachem, who came to Detroit from Lebanon in 2003 as a refugee and now employs 27 people in his HVAC business. Or in Nadia Nijimbere and Hamissi Mamba who have made their renowned Baobab Fare restaurant a center of community activity.
I continue to hope that our work at Global Detroit will lift our entire region, and in a way bring us closer to ideals of the Universal Apostolic Preferences.