In Tuesday’s Star Tribune, Alejandra Matos reports that the Immigration debate comes to Minnesota in force as politicians and immigration advocates and nonprofit groups that often serve traditional refugees struggle with the humanitarian crisis at the US-Mexican border.
One piece of the debate missing from her article is the response from past players in the anti-immigration faction–those who not only oppose undocumented immigration, but who support reducing all immigration to the United States.
On Thursday, July 24, at the Willmar Public Library from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m., California resident and former Minnesota resident Ron Branstner, a longtime activist in various Minuteman efforts, will lead a “Illegal Immigration Forum” billed in an ad in Saturday’s West Central Tribune as:
“an open forum discussion on the growing number of illegal immgrants and its effect on small communities in the Midwest. This will be led by a guest speaker from The Minutemen Border Watch of Arizona and California.”
Acting on an email tip from a reader in Willmar, Bluestem called the library for more infromation; the library gave us Ron Branstner’s contact information.
This article is reposted from TCDP media partner Bluestem Prairie. Check out the links below for other recent Bluestem Prairie stories:
In an extended phone interview, Branstner stated that his talk would first review “the atrocities” that he had seen while on border watch with the Minutemen on the Arizona and California borders with Mexico, then move to talk about the impact of undocumented immigrants on American communities.
He stressed to us that he would not single out any particular national group of people crossing the border, as he said that he largely believes that they are being exploited by human traffickers and the corporations who hire undocumented workers.
Branstner called the system “slavery,” singling out Hormel Corporation and Quality Pork Processors Inc. of Austin, Minnesota, as examples, repeatedly returning to the what Mother Jones magazine called The Spam Factory’s Dirty Secret of working with pig brains that sickened employees in the QPP factory.
The Minuteman activist stated that he had recently read that 83 percent of Hormel’s workforce was Hispanic, and constrasted that figure with that of Minnesota’s population as a whole. He believes that Hormel buses in undocumented workers from cities near the U.S-Mexican border to Minnesota as a means to obtain low wage workers who won’t risk their jobs.
“We need to force corporations to stop employing them, he said, “and hire Americans.”
Branstner said that his talk would touch on diseases and crime that undocumented immigrants bring to this country, his focus would be on corporate exploitation of them and the “the money behind this.” He faulted foundations for joining lobbying sponsored by Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugeesas being part of that force, singling out Grand Rapids’ Blandin Foundation’s leadership training as a means to convince local leaders that immigration is a positive development for Minnesota.
He is the only scheduled speaker in Thursday night, he said, and is a member of the Minutemen. In earlier presentations in Minnesota and Iowa in 2007 and 2008, Brantsner identified himself as a member of “Minuteman Civil Defense Corp., a border watch group. It is affiliated with Minnesota Seeking Immigration Reform,” According to a 2008 editorial in the Rochester Post Bulletin, Branstner was at every event hosted in Austin by the Minnesota Coalition for Immigration Reduction during that time. The latter group seeks to reduce all immigration--not merely that by the undocumented–to 200,000 people per year.
Willmar mayor to attend
Not that he isn’t trying to get other people to address the forum in Willmar, where he does not appear to have led forums during his 2007-2008 heyday in the Austin, Minnesota area.
Branstner said that Frank Yanish, mayor of Willmar, was coming to the forum to listen, although the activist hoped that the mayor would speak as well. Branstner had invited Yanish and Willmar’s chief of police to the forum.
According to Branstner, Yanish had put in place a 287 (g) arrangement (joint Memorandum of Agreement or MOA) between the City of Willmar and Homeland Security’s U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency. According to ICE, under such a MOA:
ICE works closely with federal, state and local law enforcement partners in this mission. The 287(g) program, one of ICE’s top partnership initiatives, allows a state and local law enforcement entity to enter into a partnership with ICE, under a joint Memorandum of Agreement (MOA), in order to receive delegated authority for immigration enforcement within their jurisdictions.
Minnesota Public Radio reported in late 2010 that the New mayor brings back interest in contested immigration program in Willmar, but the FAQ page on the ICE website lists no 287 (g) agreements in effect in the state of Minnesota. In April 2011, Governor Mark Dayton allowed former Governor Pawlenty’s executive order authorizing state-level 287 (g) cooperation to expire.
Willmar is home to Jennie-O Turkey Store, which is owned by the Hormel Corporation, so Branstner is stuffing that bird with his event. According to information on Kandiyohi County’s webpage, the turkey processing firm is its largest employer, with the associated Willmar Poultry Company
The seat of Kandiyohi County, Willmar is somewhat more ethnically diverse than the state as a whole. According to the State and City Quick Facts information at the United States Census website, the City of Willmar was 20.9 percent Latino or Hispanic in 2010 (contrasting with 4.7 percent of the state as a whole) and 4.8 percent African/Black (compared to 5.2 percent of Minnesotans) and 72.4 percent white alone (contrasting with 83.1 percent of the Gopher State; 8.1 percent of Willmar’s population is foreign-born (MN: 7.2 percent).
While 19 percent of Willmar residents over age 5 speak a language other than English in their homes, statewide, only about 10.6 percent of the state’s population reside in such homes.
Branstner had invited Congressman Collin Peterson to the forum, who “we really want to get to,” but the office declined to send a representative to the California resident’s forum. He didn’t recognise the hame of State Senator Torrey Westrom, the endorsed Republican congressional candidate running against Peterson.
Branstner’s past appearances in Minnesota
ranstner insists that his public appearances and forums are always respectful. News accounts suggest otherwise; the Post Bulletin reported in September 2007 that Anger flares at ‘immigration reduction’ meeting at a meeting in Austin, MN; at a second meeting in Austin in October 2007, the paper reported that the Austin mayor booed at ‘immigration reduction’ meeting.
Ron Branstner was back in Austin on Monday, selling the same arguments that he’s been pitching for more than a year now — namely, that illegal immigrants are stealing jobs from hard-working Americans, committing crimes, demanding assistance from social services — and that the Welcome Center is making it easier for them to do so these things in Austin.
Yadda, yadda, yadda.
We’ve heard this shtick before from Branstner, the California Minutemen border-watcher who seems to show up every time the Minnesota Coalition for Immigration Reduction holds a public meeting in Austin.
If the coalition asked Branstner to stay away from its next public meeting, its status would grow considerably in our eyes.
In August 2008, the Austin Herald reported in Officials talk immigration:
A public forum hosted Monday by the Minnesota Coalition of Immigration Reduction drew more than 100 people; an article the following day on the Herald’s Web site generated more than 50 postings — most emotional and many heated — in three days.
Several entities in the community were severely criticized by a forum of panelists, who included representatives from organizations with vested interests in immigration reduction. The City of Austin, law enforcement and the Welcome Center were chastised for aiding illegals, whom the speakers believe are attracted to the community because resources are available here.
“You need to shut the Welcome Center down,” Minuteman Ron Branstner demanded attendees, who responded with applause Monday. “It’s a magnet for the whole state of Minnesota.”
Branstner claimed the non-profit, founded in 2000 by the local organization APEX to provide services to newcomers with language barriers, receives millions of dollars in federal funding.
Welcome Center Executive Director Liliana Silvestry, who was not in attendance at the forum, rebutted that they do not receive any federal funding whatsoever, and that she has yet to see such documentation.
“It is funded most of the time coming from foundations — locally and out of state — also friends and supporters,” Silvestry said Thursday. “We don’t receive state funds except local funds from the city. We have an agreement for services with the county.” . . .
In September 2008, the Herald reported in Media, Austin history discussed at immigration forum:
Less than 30 people attended the forum in the mirrored community meeting room.
The two-hour session began with the playing of a video, which most people ignored.
When Ron Branstner, representing Minnesota Coalition for Immigration Reduction (MCFIR) began his presentation, he attacked the media for biased reporting.
Despite brandishing newspaper clippings showing Austin’s support for addressing open borders issues from USA Today and other papers, Branstner specifically accused the Austin Daily Herald of failing to accurately report the activities of MCFIR in Austin. . . .
According to Branstner, foundations have a hidden agenda and that is to support open borders to allow American industries and businesses a ready supply of “cheap labor.”
The 1985-86 labor dispute and strike at Hormel Foods Corporation facilities resulted, in part, with the need for “cheap labor.”
He quickly spun off charges Apex Austin was created to assist “cheap labor” in coming to Austin.
That, the more than 700 Austin citizens who participated in the Blandin Foundation’s Community Leadership Program, were “brainwashed” into supporting the movement toward cultural diversity.
The Blandin Foundation’s Community Leadership Program has trained over 6,500 local leaders from over 400 communities across Minnesota. The foundation distributes the proceeds from a trust worth more than $350 million that was established by paper company owner Charles K. Blandin in 1941.
Brantsner returned to Austin in May 2010, according to a Post Bulletin article reprinted in the Meat Trade News Daily (UK), Hormel Foods under fire over immigrant staff. The meeting took place at the time when the country (and state) was roiled over Arizona’s notorious SB1070 law. According to the report:
California Minuteman Ron Branstner compares the employment of illegal immigrants at local businesses like Hormel Foods Corp. and Quality Pork Producers to the indentured servitude experienced by blacks and the Chinese and by child laborers in earlier times.
And the small crowd of people who gathered in a rented business space in the Oak Park Mall largely agreed with him.
Branstner spoke at a meeting of the local chapter of Minnesota Coalition for Immigration Reduction on Thursday night.
“They’re being used,” said Branstner of illegal immigrants who work for Hormel and QPP.
Hormel Foods Corp. officials were not available for comment this morning.
Branstner blames organizations like the Blandin Foundation and APEX Austin, which in turn created the Austin Welcome Center, for contributing to the problem by making the city attractive to illegal aliens because it helps them find jobs, housing and driver’s licenses.
The Welcome Center’s mission is to help newcomers become part of the community and to promote multicultural understanding; most of its budget comes from grants and donations. Welcome Center board president Mark Stevens said he had no response to Branstner’s comments.
Branstner told the crowd that their tax dollars paid for those projects. He claimed that only employers like Hormel and QPP benefit from illegal immigrants in Austin “because we pay for all the taxes.”
Branstner charged that local efforts to count all the immigrants in this year’s U.S. Census are merely a way for politicians to gain votes.
He charged that the problems seen in Austin will spread because of Blandin and former Mayor Bonnie Reitz, who has spoken to other communities about how Austin has handled the issue.
While Branstner told Bluestem that he doesn’t single out groups in his presentations, the Post Bulletin story does suggest that this has not always been the case:
Branstner encouraged the crowd to vote out every incumbent “because they bury themselves in this [Blandin] program.” He alleged that U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison “has flooded the area with Somalis and Hmongs” to keep himself in power. Ellison’s congressional district is in the Minneapolis area and doesn’t include Austin.
Bluestem has to wonder how Keith Ellison managed to engineer the refugee status of Hmong people who fought on the side of the United States in the Vietnam War. The first federal law allowing Hmong refugees to enter the United States was passed in 1975, when Ellison was around 12 years old, and immgration has slowed since September 11, 2001; Ellison began serving the Minnesota House of Representatives in 2003. That’s some magic mojo for a middle class kid from Detroit.
But Keith Ellison seems to hold a special place in Ron Branstner’s heart. On June 23, 2007, Ellison held a community forum on immigration reform, featuring Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), author of the STRIVE Act (the Security Through Regularized Immigration and Vibrant Economy Act of 2007) a proposal for comprehensive immigration reform, along with “a panel of people from the labor movement, the faith community and the Hispanic, Somali and Hmong communities,” the Downtown Journal reported.
As Bluestem posted in A terrible bigotry is born: A bit more about Hendrycks and Day’s pal Ron Branstner, several readers saw our photo of the California activist and identified him as a man who had stood up and heckled Gutierrez. We searched and found a reference to the incident in a post by anti-immigrant activist Ruthie Hendrycks in an online forum:
This is a update on the Ellison Immigration reform debate this past weekend This is straight from Calif member Ron – who was in attendance and we thank him and all that were able to attend
Of course it will be no surprise to anyone that the pro amnesty slant was loud and clear – Ellison – must no be re elected EVER! Ruthie,
Yesterdays open forum at the washburn HS Minneapolis was, to say the least interesting.
Out numbered and out voiced the proponent cheered as the propaganda machine spoke.
Ellison and Gutierrez said repeatedly that immigration is flawed and sending people home is not the answer. The gym was filled with a third world eliment and little respect for law.
Gutierrez was speaking in spanish and I stood up and shouted to speak in english and the mob was ready to put a rope around my neck.
The reality is Minnesotans better awaken soon and with some fight. Ellison has plans to legalize as many 3rd world people through this amnesty bill. Ellison is fighting to reinstate thousands of Liberians whos visas are about to expire next month, and with chain migration the families are awaiting there ticket to America. This should be headline news.
Well then. As we noted at the time, the struggle of Liberian refugees in Minnesota hadn’t been neglected in the state’s press–and when a person heckles at a meeting, Minnesotans get pissed:
Yup, it’s funny how annoyed people get at meetings when someone starts heckling. We’ve been to a lot of meetings–some where people have been really, really pissed at Congressman Walz for his war funding votes–and yet the custom is to be civil.
And the Liberians Branstner fears are political refugees. And as far as this issue being headline news, the story of their fight to stay in Minnesota wasn’t particularly neglected by the media.
To its credit, the Star Tribune ran a series about the group beginning in February that has been regularly updated: A People Torn: Liberians in Minnesota. Doesn’t seem as if Branstner or Hendrycks are aware of it–but facts are stubborn things.
Why is California Minuteman Branstner speaking again in Minnesota?
It’s seven years later from the 2007 forums, and Branner is taking his show to Willmar, with his talking points about corporations and foundations conspiring with human traffickers intact.
In our phone interview Tuesday, he claimed to have little recent contact with MinnSIR’s Ruthie Hendrycks, while noting that the membership of the Minnesota Coalition for Immigration Reduction was aging. He was unaware of concerns about immgration expressed by the SW Metro Tea Party (he didn’t recognize Chanhassen Republican Representative Cindy Pugh’s name) nor the anti-Somali agitation encouraged by the Central Minnesota Tea Party. Moreover, he was unaware of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce’s postion favoring comprehensive immigration reform.
It seemed like he wasn’t from around here–and confirmed that he remains a legal resident of California.
But he’s dropped the affiliation with the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps (MCDC): the group disbanded in 2010, and Phoenix New Times’s Stephen Lemons reported last Wednesday that Simcox now languishes in Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s jail awating trial on child molestation charges. (For more on Simcox and the MCDC, we recommend Lemons’ September 2013 New Times feature, Chris Simcox’s Life Arc Mirrors the Nativist Movement’s Demise.)
But while Simcox and the MCDC are out of the game, the other important Minuteman group from last decade has revived itself, Fox News’ Joshua Rhett Miller reports in Minuteman Project ready to return to border amid wave of illegal immigration:
The Minuteman Project — the controversial civilian patrol that came to prominence a decade ago — is riding out of retirement in a bid to help tackle the illegal immigration crisis at the Mexico border.
The group, which patrolled parts of the 2,000-mile border from 2005-2010, acting as unarmed and unsanctioned eyes and ears of the Border Patrol, is trying to recruit a force of thousands to help keep illegal immigrants from making their way into the United States from Mexico. Minutemen founder and president Jim Gilchrist said preparation for “Operation Normandy” will take place over the next 10 months as the dormant group seeks to recruit and organize as many as 3,500 volunteers.
“We are coming because we no longer trust that this government knows how to handle this issue,” Gilchrist told FoxNews.com. “This is going to dwarf the original Minuteman Project and I expect a number of militia groups to join.”
The Minuteman Project gained national traction in 2005, but internal turmoil, accusations of vigilantism and criminal charges against some of its key figures, including a former leader of the movement, Chris Simcox, led to its demise. Gilchrist said the group’s last significant border operation was conducted in July 2010, roughly one year after the high-profile robbery and murder of Border Patrol Agent Robert Rosas, Jr., who was fatally shot during a struggle for his night vision device on the international border near Campo, Calif.
Gilchrist accused the Obama administration of not taking illegal immigration seriously, noting the nearly 60,000 unaccompanied children, mostly from Central America, have been apprehended along the border since Oct. 1. Separately, more than 39,000 immigrants, primarily mothers and children, have also been arrested in that same period.
The massive influx has come despite a doubling to more than 21,000 in the number of Border Patrol agents over the past decade. . . . .
Now Branstner is back to the state where he was born, hanging out at an undisclosed location in Central Minnesota, and getting ready to till new ground in Willmar.
The forum will take place at the Willmar Public Library, 410 5th St SW, on Thursday, July 24, 6:00 p.m.-8:00 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.
Photos: Scanned image of the ad for Thursday’s forum from the West Central Tribune (above); Ron Branstner in Austin, circa 2007-2008; Branstner wasn’t the only one to run to the border for quality time with the Minutemen (middle); former Senator Dick Day (R-Owatonna) also visited (below). (Artistic rendition via Tildology)