Immigrating to Michigan Over Time (1970s – Present)

By: Eileen LeValley


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.

Simple Digital Story

“LASED”- Latin Americans for Social and Economic Development

Antonia Morabito, Immigration Specialist

By: Eileen LeValley

Antonia Morabito, Immigration Specialist at LASED in Detroit, Michigan. Monday, November 11, 2019. Photograph by Eileen LeValley

Meet Antionia Morabito. She is an immigration specialist at LASED in Detroit , Michigan. LASED stands for , Latin Americans for Social and Economic Development. LASED is located in Southwest Detroit, in the neighborhood known as “Mexicantown”

Antonias journey started when she did her internship at LASED from 2007-2008. She received her Masters degree in International Communication of Hispanic Studies. During this time, she was also teaching classes at University of Detroit Mercy, for Italian and Spanish.

She taught classes at University of Detroit Mercy until 2012. After completing her internship at LASED in 2008, LASED hired her full time as an Immigration Specialist and Educational Coordinator. Antonia speaks five different languages, English, Spanish, Italian, Greek, and Latin.

Antonia also teaches classes at LASED. The first class she teaches is “ESL” English as a Second Language. The second class she teaches is “United States Citizenship.” She teaches both of these classes to adults and youths. Antonia also helps with the daily operations of the LASED youth and senior centers.

As an immigration specialist, Antonia helps immigrants apply to be a United States Citizen. She helps immigrants with Green Cards, work documents, and the entire process that has anything to do with immigrating to Michigan.

Antonia works with Cubans who arrived to the United States in the 1980’s and earlier. Some of these Cubans came to the United States under the rules and regulations of the Nixon Administration. LASED is the only one in the area that works with Cubans.

LASED is one of the oldest non-profit organizations in Detroit. The first to work with the Hispanic community. LASED is also the first organization to work with an entire community. Anyone in the area can go to LASED with immigration help or questions. If anyone is scared by what they see on television about immigration, they can go to LASED with questions, and she will explain to them the reality of the situation.

Antonia also works with DREAMERS. Dreamers Education Reform, or Dream Act. Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors. An American legislative proposal for a process for granting residency status to qualifying immigrants who entered the United States as minors. It would first grant conditional residency , and upon meeting further qualifications permanent residency. In June of 2012, President Barrack Obama announced his administration would stop deporting undocumented immigrants who matched certain criteria included in the proposed DREAM act.

Antonia’s successes as an Immigration Specialist include helping over 550 people in the last ten years become a United States Citizen. Lawyers have messed up immigration cases for immigrants, because they were not knowledgeable about immigration rules and laws. Antonia works with immigrants to fix these complicated issues.

Antonia directs cases with children who are being held in determent camps today to the Mexican Consulates.

If an immigrant is deported out of the United States after living for one year in the United States, because of issues, Antonia gets involved and helps them with immigration policy. Immigrants must follow the regulations. If they commit a crime, or have issues with domestic violence, jail time, or drug related issues, they will get sent back. There are limits as to what Antoina can help them with. They will also loose their Green Card.

Citizenship to the United States requires that you live more than 5 years in the United States before you apply for citizenship. You must know the 100 questions related to the United States on the test, and read and write english. It is a 3-5 month process, and Antonia helps with all of these requirements for immigrants. You must also be over 18 years old, file income tax, and have no trouble with firearms, prostitution or drugs.

Today, Antonia faces new challenges. Under the new rules of the Trump Administration, immigration policy has changed. Now, renewing a Green Card takes up to eleven months, and a specific background check must be implemented. In the past, renewing a Green Card was easy. Also new, is the applicant must know 70% English which is difficult, because most did not go to school. If the applicant does not have health insurance, or if they have received some type of public assistance such as Medicaid, they can not apply for United States Citizenship.

Antonia’s toughest decisions in the last year, is telling people they can not apply for citizenship, because they do not meet the new regulations of the Trump Administration. These immigrants then go to a lawyer and pay large amounts of money. The lawyers keep their money, knowing that they do not meet the criteria. These people end up back at LASED with Antonia trying to help them. As of October 14, 2019 immigrants must have Health Insurance, or they can not renew or get a Green Card.

Antonia talked about how today’s immigrants, are different from the immigrants years ago. Statistics say immigrants come from countries that are poor, or dealing with civil war. They live in poverty or hope of a better life. Mostly Latin countries, not Europe. After World War 2 , the United States opened boarders from countries who were affected by war. Now if someone immigrates from Europe, it’s for a job. Middle East, Africa and Asia, come because of a struggling situation they have in their own countries.

Antonia’s work as an Immigration Specialist helps so many people. She helps keep an entire community together, not just immigrants. This is an issue we all should be involved with, building communities and helping one another. And just remember, the United States is what it is today, because of immigrants.

LASED Main Office in Detroit, Michigan. Monday, November 11, 2019. Photograph by Eileen LeValley
LASED Senior and Youth Center in Detroit, Michigan, Monday, November 11, 2019. Photograph by Eileen LeValley
LASED Art work outside on garage doors painted by LASED Youth Center. Detroit, Michigan. Monday, November 11, 2019. Photograph by Eileen LeValley
Antonia Morabito, Immigration Specialist at LASED in her classroom waiting for her students to arrive for the Citizenship Class she teaches. Detroit, Michigan. Monday, November 11, 2019. Photograph by Eileen LeValley
Antonia Morabito at LASED proudly shows the “Different Countries Flag” she created with the youth center children. Detroit, Michigan. Monday, November 11, 2019. Photograph by Eileen LeValley
One of many youth art work pieces displayed at LASED created by the children in the Youth Center. Detroit, Michigan. Monday, November 11, 2019. Photograph by Eileen LeValley
One of many examples of what the Immigrants in the Citizenship Class at LASED have available to them in the classroom as reference. Detroit, Michigan. Monday, November 11, 2019. Photograph by Eileen LeValley

Lab. # 5 Understanding Immigration Issues

What is the process to becoming an immigrant in Michigan? Although the rules, requirements and process can easily be researched on various websites, talking to actual people who have immigrated to Michigan from other countries gives us a better understanding of the process.

What about the immigrant that immigrated 30 years ago, verses today? Are the rules different? Did they encounter more or less problems than the immigrant of today?

More than half of all immigrants in Michigan are naturalized U.S. citizens. While 342,465 immigrants (52.5 percent) had naturalized as of 2015, 124,804 immigrants were eligible to become naturalized U.S. citizens in 2015.

More than 70,000 U.S. citizens in Michigan live with at least one family member who is undocumented.

Figures and statistics can be researched all day long, but hearing the immigrants story of how they immigrated, and the process they went through, gives us a better understanding of the process to immigrating to Michigan.

In this audio series, I will be investigating the answers to the questions I have. I will go out in the community, and interview people who have actually immigrated to Michigan from other countries.

The Paperwork Trail, The Process, The Problems.