Immigrating to Michigan Over Time (1970s – Present)

By: Eileen LeValley, Jacob Walerius, and Jada Martin


Since the turn of the century, immigration policy has been amongst the hottest talking points in modern America. In recent years those talks have only gotten hotter with President Trump’s plans and policies constantly being called into question. From the coverage of conditions in immigration camps, to the increased government focus on finding and deporting illegal immigrants, it’s not unfair to say that immigration policies, procedures, and their execution have never been more at the forefront of political and social conversation . It has been well documented how tough and lengthy the process can be to become a U.S. citizen, thus resulting in a plethora of illegal immigrants unable to obtain citizenship or some sort of other legal residency and therefore ending up being deported back to their country of origin or held in one of the notorious immigrations camps.   

A graph representing Michigan’s foreign born population from 1990-2017. Information provided by

From green cards to legal residency through marriage to U.S. citizenship, there are many ways to legally reside in America and the process for all of them can be very different and challenging. This multimedia package will take a look into these experiences of real people who have immigrated to America (more specifically Michigan) over the past few decades and compare their experiences across time to see how the processes for these different forms of residency might have changed or differed along the way. 

John Chisholm: Immigrated From England In 1979 

John Chisholm and his wife Kathy in their backyard in Clawson, Michigan on November 11, 2019.

John Chisholm originally immigrated to Michigan from the United Kingdom in 1979 when he received a job offer from an aftermarket automotive company in Detroit. He came in on a temporary visa from the UK and had to keep reapplying for it in order to legally stay in the states.

“Every two or three months I would have to go back to the UK and then come in (to America) again. And then back again and then come in again.” John says of his initial green card process.

In the process of applying for a green card he had to fill out large sets of paperwork and undergo numerous interviews and medical examinations before ultimately getting his green card. He still goes through the process of reapplying for his green card and says the organization is actually far better now than what it was back in the 1970’s, where as before there was no appointment that could be made at the immigration office and it was more of a scramble of who could get their first before the office opened in the morning just to get out at a reasonable time. 

“It was first come first serve, and you would actually spend hours just waiting.” He described of the past immigration offices. “They treated me well but I had a suit and an attorney, I heard how they talked to some people.” 

While John says the green card process has gotten easier, he says he has no plans to get an American citizenship as it provides him no real benefits beyond what he has with his green card. He says in order to obtain American citizenship he says he would have to “swear allegiance to the flag” thereby renouncing his citizenship in the UK, a process he calls “unusual”. 

The full interview with John is available here. 

Jill Clissold: Immigrated From Scotland In 1984

Jill Clissold posing for a photo her home in Clawson, Michigan on November 13, 2019.

Jill Clissold first immigrated from Scotland to the United States 1984 after marrying her American husband William Clissold in Scotland. Just two days after the wedding, Jill and her husband came to America and started the process of making Jill a legal resident. She was told by a girl at the immigration office that they shouldn’t say they were married in Scotland, but rather say she is currently his fiance and then get married within a month of moving stateside to make it legal. 

“So we got married twice.” Jill said. “I took my ring off. We said we weren’t really married and I was his fiance so we had to get married within that first month.”

Jill says there was no real paperwork process at the time since she obtained residency through marriage. She just had to do the official paperwork for marriage and that was really it in order to become a legal resident. 

Jill still has not applied for citizenship and says she doesn’t want to as she already has all the desired benefits through her legal residency. Becoming a citizen would require her to renounce Scotland as her home country, something she does not want to do. 

The full interview with Jill is available here.

Antonia Morabito: Immigrated From Italy In 1999

Antonia Morabito posing for a picture at LASED offices in Detroit, Michigan on November 11, 2019.

Antonia Morabito immigrated to Dearborn, Michigan from Italy in June of 1999 after marrying a U.S. citizen. She describes the paperwork process she had to go through as relatively simple.

“At the time it was easy.” Antonia says of her paperwork process back in 1999. “We were told we had 90 days to start our paperwork, so we did it. My husband filled out four really short applications. Each application had a fee and it’s total was $400 so we paid.”

In 2011 Antonia officially became a U.S. citizen after spending 12 years as a legal resident. She says the process now is completely different compared to when she first immigrated. Now she says the process can take up to 18 months and the process fees are $1800 compared to the $400 she paid before. She says the modern paperwork is much longer, detailed, and complex compared to what it was when she first immigrated in 1999.

The full interview with Antonia is available here.

Ali Sanat: Immigrated From Algeria In 2018

Ali Sanat posing for a photo at his home in Clawson, Michigan on November 11, 2019.

Ali Sanat immigrated to the U.S. from Algeria in March of 2018. He has expressed desire in becoming a citizen despite the difficult process, but for now he only has his green card. The way in which he got his green card was through a sort of lottery. He says he had to enter his information online in order to apply for the lottery, and he was one of the lucky winners of the lottery that granted him his green card. 

Ali, now has his wife, daughter, and son with him living in the United States. His daughter is going to Michigan State University. He sponsors his wife, daughter, and son as they reside in the United States.

The full interview with Ali is available here.