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Michigan Needs to Build a Wall (To Keep Us In)

Stop Thinking Globally and Act Locally
Image of a highway with trees and a wall featuring bright multicolor mural stretches along the roadside.

When the Office of Global Michigan asked the people of the Pleasant Peninsula to open their doors to refugees, the universal reaction was shock. 

With Gov. Gretchen Whitmer seeking $1 billion in 2025 to build new housing for illegal immigrants, and her administration fighting in court to deny the public a $700 million tax cut, it’s clear Michigan is both courting and pushing away the wrong people. Michigan works hard to attract immigrants, even as it watches its smartest and richest people leave every year.

“Due to our outstanding program and our strong ethnic communities in the state, Michigan continues to be a destination for refugees,” says the Office of Global Michigan in its 2023 annual report. “For retention purposes specifically, refugee service agencies and employment/employment-service providers deliver training and services to refugees to assist them in obtaining employment.”

Michigan does not need an Office of Global Michigan to help immigrants find housing and get jobs. 

It needs an Office of Population Retention to help Michiganders find housing and get jobs. If it can be done for Cuban and Ukrainian refugees, it can be done for Americans holding college degrees.

Image of a seal with trees  on it reading "SUREMLICTO THE OF PEETRTIE" on the top and "The Michigan Office of Popululaation Population Retention on the bottom.

Failing that, Michigan needs to build a border wall. Not to keep immigrants out, but to keep its college graduates and retirees in.

Detroit is not in competition with Chicago or Washington for new residents. That’s crazy talk, every time you hear it. Get that out of your head.

Before Detroit can win at national-level battles, it must win the local version. And that future is not built with attention-getters like electrified roads or bike lanes, the kind of stuff planners do when the prompt is “what would get someone from Chicago to move here?”

Michigan does not need an Office of Global Michigan to help immigrants find housing and get jobs. It needs an Office of Population Retention to help Michiganders find housing and get jobs.

Homebuyers think differently. They ask two basic questions about a community: Is it safe, and can it educate my child? Forget Paris. Detroit needs to compete with Livonia and Ann Arbor. 

It can’t, and until it does, it won’t fare well with people who can choose to live anywhere in the world.

People are only as hometown-loyal as their options. It’s telling that the Michiganders with the most options—new college grads with potential and retirees with savings—choose to leave Michigan rather than stay.

The best way to grow Michigan is to keep its best and brightest young minds home. It’s cheaper to keep them than to pay Tim Allen to lure them back.  

Trading college graduates for illegal immigrants has only made Michigan poorer. That’s a bad use of our energy.

And building expensive train sets, in the hopes of attracting globetrotters, is a bad use of our money. This benefits planners and nobody else.

To grow, Michigan does not need to think globally. It needs to act locally. It needs to build a wall.

James David Dickson is a former Detroit News columnist. Follow him on X at @downi75.

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