Integrated Policy Exercise debates Immigrant Visa Proposal

Every year, the Gerald R. Ford School for Public Policy at the University of Michigan schedules an Integrated Policy Exercise course (IPE) as a requirement for all first-year masters level students.  The IPE course focuses on a real-world current or potential policy issue. This year, during the first week of January, students simulated the creation of state legislation that would allow the State of Michigan to act as a visa sponsor in accordance to Governor Rick Snyder’s and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan’s proposal of acquiring 50,000 visas for Detroit.

20150106_144011The idea for focusing on immigration as an IPE topic came out of conversations between Ford School Professor Liz Gerber and Global Detroit. With the assistance of Kyle Murphy, Global Detroit’s Ford School intern this past summer, as well as input from Global Detroit Board members Karen Phillippi and Rami Fakhoury, the Ford School was able to better understand the mechanics behind the Governor’s and Mayor’s proposal and to connect with a wide variety of organizations that participated in and were represented during the IPE.

During the week-long simulation, the students played the role of Michigan state legislators, local and national foundations, municipal leaders, press entities, and other stakeholders. There was even a student playing the role of Global Detroit Director Steve Tobocman.

20150106_141854On Tuesday, January 6th, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan made Detroit’s case for the visas to the IPE students at a session at the Detroit Institute of Arts.  When asked about how 50,000 new immigrants to the city might make others feel excluded from opportunities, Mayor Duggan’s answer was two-fold addressing the benefits of immigration: additional jobs and population growth. He reminded students that Detroit has lost nearly 250,000 people over the last decade as reported by the 2010 Census. In order to have a thriving economy, Detroit needs to be attracting new people with a range of skills: people who shop, eat out, rent apartments, buy houses, and pay taxes.  50,000 visas would mean an immediate infusion of people consuming and spending in Detroit, creating more jobs at every level.

Ford School students were assigned roles and debated vigorously, without breaking character, as policy advocates and experts, technology industry leaders, corporate human resources representatives, and City officials, as they made their cases for and against amendments to the hypothetical legislation. During the debates, they made suggestions or raised concerns. Observing the debates, it was apparent that the language and the ideas had become very personal and that the students were invested in their arguments.  It is easy to see how this simulation provided a valuable real world example of how public policy is generated.

Ahmed_Alawami_Profile_PicReflecting on the experience, Ford School student Ahmed Alawami stated:

What is unique about IPE is the sense of immersion in the policy role each student is playing. Despite it being a simulated exercise, each student is intensely embedded in the interests of the stakeholder or decision-maker they take on. They really prepare for this stuff and are so in character that it adds to the realness of the experiential learning component of the exercise. This method of learning is rarely used in classroom settings elsewhere. I appreciate that both Professor Gerber and the Ford School champion this otherwise unorthodox, yet creative and effective approach to teaching policy. It is an added benefit to zoom in on policy issues relevant to Detroit specifically, and to Southeast Michigan more generally.

Despite Ann Arbor’s physical proximity to Detroit, many times it seems that the connection between the two cities is limited, and I appreciate that the Ford School decided to center IPE on the City of Detroit. What I found really valuable was prompting students to think about underrepresented, unheard, and disenfranchised voices. As future policymakers, practitioners, and analysts, allowing space and air time for those voices is one of the key goals I wanted to get out of my policy education. Our learning in a simulation like IPE would not be complete without this important component.

Kyle MurphyKyle Murphy, Ford School Student and Global Detroit intern, observed that as the IPE evolved,  discussions mirrored  similar questions that were raised in Detroit when the announcement of the request for additional visas was first made, which shows how policy makers need to work closer with the community as policy is being developed.

The IPE makes it possible to see an issue play out in an abbreviated amount of time with voices from across the public, private, and non-profit spheres. It highlights the complexity of the policy-making process, and gives students the opportunity to take on viewpoints far from their own. While the end result of unanimous support for visas targeting Detroit may have been less than realistic, the policy process and diverse group of stakeholders considered in the debate was authentic. The simulation also mirrors reality by demonstrating the wide gap between decision-makers and advocacy groups. Those playing advocacy roles, like myself, are limited in their ability to affect the final outcome, and the frustration that comes with that distance feels very real.

I also was impressed how the dynamics of race played out in the simulation. Students representing community groups in Detroit brought real concerns about strategies advocating for immigrant-driven economic development.

We invite you to look at the Ford School of Public Policy’s website for varying viewpoints on the topic, for more information of the policy exercise, and photographs.



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