Groups rally to support immigration rights

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Frustration and anger resounded in the community center of Iglesia Sagrado Corazón de Jesús during a press conference held Sunday in response to Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s recent report, “The Impact of Illegal Immigration on Minnesota”.

Community leaders expressed their disapproval of the report which explicated the economic downfalls of illegal immigration on the state. They said since the report does not show the contributions made by immigrants, they hope that the governor will consider clarifying the misrepresentation by weighing the costs with the benefits.

Antonia Alverez, an activist with ISAIAH, a faith-based social justice organization, mother of four, and immigrant, doesn’t consider herself a burden to the state.

“I work really hard to support my kids, I pay taxes, I pay Social Security, and I don’t ask for any help from the government,” she said, “I am a very productive person.”

Mark Lindberg, another member of ISAIAH, said national security is important to everyone, but fair decisions need to be made in policies involving immigrants.

“Minnesotans have a choice whether we’ll welcome and respect or exclude and punish,” he said.

The governor’s report states that illegal immigration poses “a financial strain on state resources” and “societal impacts, such as crime and economic loss.” It estimates that there are up to 85,000 undocumented immigrants living in Minnesota.

A controversial statistic in the report estimates the public cost of undocumented immigrants at up to $188 million of which it states up to $157.53 million is from K-12 public education. However, the cost of education in the report includes U.S. citizen children of undocumented immigrants. This cost is estimated at up to $94.52 million or about one-third of the report’s total cost estimate.

Barbara Ronningen, a senior analyst with the State Demographic Center, a center designed to gather, interpret, and compile population data, said that the administers of the governor’s report did not use her office as a resource even though she and her colleagues are highly skilled and educated in their work, she said they were contacted, but the information they provided was not utilized.

Latino buying power in Minnesota is estimated at $3.3 billion in 2005, said Jared Erdmann, interim co-director of Hispanic Advocacy and Community Empowerment through Research (HACER), referring to information from the Selig Center for Economic Growth at the University of Georgia.

According to a 2003 report by the Latino Economic Development Center referring to information from the Selig Center, the presence of undocumented labor is estimated to create $1.02 billion in Minnesota tax revenue- $311 million going to Social Security and $345.4 million are state and local taxes and fees.

It also states that Latinos have played a major role in the revitilization of “highly stressed” areas in Minnesota such as the West Side community in St. Paul, Payne Avenue in the East Side of St. Paul, and Lake Street and Central Avenue in Minneapolis.

Erdmaan also noted that approximatly 37,000 undocumented personnel are enlisted in the U.S. military- 37,000 that can be citizens – if they die in combat.

Mariano Espinoza, Advocacy Director for the Minnesota Immigrant Freedom Network, said the governor’s report came out in a very critical time. He said 2006 will be an interesting year because of the split immigration policy stances among Republicans and Democrats, but he doesn’t expect much legislation.

In 2005, he said the greatest feat has been the passage of the DREAM Act in the House and the Senate. Also known as the In-State Tuition for Immigrant Status Bill, The DREAM Act proposes that the approximately 500 undocumented Minnesotan students that graduate from public high schools every year be eligible for in-state tuition. The provisions would be that they attend high school in Minnesota for three years and graduate or attain the equivalent of graduation.

However in March, after Pawlenty threatened to veto the entire higher education bill, the DREAM Act was removed.

Espinoza said the Minnesota Immigrant Freedom Network is preparing to advocate the DREAM Act in March 2006. The coalition will prepare by educating Minneapolis-area and surrounding high school students on the issue, the legislative system, and public policies. They will also work on improving their skills in leadership and public speaking.

He also said there are many new immigrant communities that don’t participate in the electoral process because they don’t feel they have the right. He challenges organizations and citizens to integrate the communities by informing them about their role in immigration policies, so they can be a more influential voice.

“We are going to have a new immigration system in this country sooner or later […] I believe that [our] role is to participate and make sure that everybody knows that we have a community that is a base for the economy,” he said, “It’s time for all of us to come out and be united.”

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