Keith Ellison, Person of the Year 2007


La Prensa de Minnesota started a new tradition last year, “La Prensa de Minnesota Person of The Year”, an award aimed to highlight the accomplishments and the impact of one person in favor of our communities as a whole. Last year, we honored Senator Patricia Torres Ray. This year, we feel humble to honor a Minnesotan whose work in the US House of Representatives has make him a national figure and one of the most outstanding people in Congress, Minnesota Representative Keith Ellison. His work, during 2007, in favor of the environment, immigration reform, healthcare, the poor and the Liberian community deserve a bigger recognition that we hope someday he will receive.

In 2006 we described Ellison’s electoral victory in the following words “A lot can be said about Keith Ellison. He ran a great campaign. He did it without using negative ads and tried to stay on message even though he was under fire during the whole campaign. His victory earned him a place in history books and he is now the frist Muslim ever to be elected for Congress. His amazing victory (55%) over Republican Alan Fine (21%) and Independent Tammy Lee (21%) proved that his message was heard and that his campaign did the right thing. Ellison brought together an important coalition of minorities and turned himself into the voice of those who doesn’t have a voice in Minnesota. He proved to be a powerful ally for the immigrant community and since he took office as Stete Representative, back in 2002, he fought with all his heart against Governor Pawlenty and his attempt to turn Driver’s Licenses and State ID’s into immigration documents by adding the “Status Check” mark.

He stood beside the Latino community during the marches in support of the undocumented immigrants and stood against the Minutemen when they came to town.” [La Prensa de Minnesota, November 16, 2006].

Today we feel proud to say that Representative Ellison has done a great job in his first year in The US House of Representatives and that he is still fighting for the same principles.

His First Year in Congress, in his Own Words

His term began in the midst of a great controversy over his religion. He was finger pointed and attacked by extreme right even before taking oath. And even though the controversy reached national news, he took oath in his own faith under the Constitution. He describes his first year in office by saying “I am convinced now, more than ever, that ordinary people can change Congress because when we look at the so called “Big Money Interests” you see the mistakes they make, you see their lack of organization and you realize they are just people and it’s possible to out lobby those interests, it is possible because at the end they are just ordinary people, like you and I.”

“The greatest lesson I’ve learned is that we have a high degree of organizations out there and that if we focus, we can end the war, America can have a foreign policy based on peace and negotiation, we can have real middle class prosperity, working class prosperity, but we can’t do it in a divided halfhearted way. Because of the people of the other side are not halfhearted and are well organized, but they can be beaten. They didn’t want to pass the minimum wage; we had to fight them over there. They didn’t want to pass the water resources bill.” He said.

The Civil Rights Movement

Ellison has always been a great supporter of the Civil Rights movement and a supporter of immigrant and minority communities. But still, he thinks that the struggle in this field needs commitment and a strong will to continue. “America needs another Civil Rights revolution.” He says. “We have a serious problem. I think people have a certain sense of complacency, people think “we [did] the Civil Rights movement in the 60’s now it’s over,” but that’s not true; when it comes to torture and waterboarding issue, when it comes to the entire immigration debate which [I] think is nothing but racism; when it comes to a lot of issues, all I can say is that we need a new Civil Rights movement in America and if you think you solved the social problem, you better watch it, because there is another one coming behind it.” He stressed.

The Liberian Relief Act

We all remember the tough spot where Liberians living in the US were put when their TPS was about to expire and they were at the verge of being mass deported back to a country that offers no warranties for any of them. Ellison was one of the people in Congress fighting to stop that mass deportation and give them another chance to continue their lives in the US. He remembers the struggle by saying “Ultimately we had to rely on the pressure we put on the administration to extend for 18 months their TPS but we still had to get a bill passed and it was part of the whole immigration debate. These people who are trying to manipulate the immigration debate are just trying to divide the country. So we appealed to the best of the people in Congress and we lobbied the administration and a group of community members came to Congress [some of them were Liberians some were not] and walked the halls in Congress, knocked on the doors of Senators and Representatives and they are just another example of how ordinary people can have an effect on Congress.

The Immigration Reform

Even while he was still in Minnesota he was already a big supporter of the immigration reform and in Congress, during his first year, he was one of the stronger supporters of the “Strive ACT” an immigration reform proposal introduced by Representative Luis Gutierrez –D-ILL-. Ellison saw the defeat of the immigration reform from a different perspective and he said “Unfortunately when you have someone like Lou Dobbs arguing to the average [let’s say European American male citizen], telling them that somehow economic opportunities for them will be limited by undocumented immigrants who are coming to America with out the proper documentation, those people “are taking your jobs, that’s why you are in debt, that’s why you haven’t had a pay increase, that’s why you have been unemployed” all these is false but when you have people like Dobbs or Rush Limbaugh saying that people believe it. When the Strive ACT was being considered, we were getting tons of calls, they weren’t from my district but they were part of the political strategy that we call “Astro Turf” [Astro Turf is fake grass roots, you get a lot of people that are probably getting paid to call to make it look as if they have a lot of support]. Many of the people who are opposed to the immigration reform are strong proponents of Free Trade Agreements such as NAFTA that I believe has damaged somehow the Mexican field worker. On my case I’m unshakable on the issue and I am going to continue supporting it until it gets passed.”