Leaving the children behind: Minnesota business, labor, religious leaders call for immigration reform

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“What a joy to be on a dais with labor and the Chamber of Commerce speaking with one voice,” said Congress member Keith Ellison at an April 14 press conference calling for immigration reform. “The time is now, the moment is now for comprehensive immigration reform.”

Vic Rosenthal of Jewish Community Action also noted the unusual coalition, saying that this was the first time in Minnesota that labor union and Chamber of Commerce representatives joined on the same platform. Stacia Smith of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and Javier Morillo, president of SEIU Local 26 joined Ellison, Rosenthal, Rabbi Morris Allen of Beth Jacob Congregation in Mendota Heights, Reverend Jose Santiago of Holy Rosary Catholic Church in Minneapolis, and James Kremer, a partner in Dorsey & Whitney at the Midtown Global Market in Minneapolis.

Their common theme was a call to the Obama administration to press ahead with comprehensive immigration reform and to end raids in 2009.

Severing a Lifeline: The Neglect of Citizen Children in America’s Immigration Enforcement Policy

Download the report as a PDF file.

The Minneapolis-based law firm of Dorsey & Whitney researched and prepared an extensive report for the non-partisan Urban Institute on the plight of the children of undocumented immigrants. According to the report, Severing a Lifeline: The Neglect of Citizen Children in America’s Immigration Enforcement Policy:

Of the approximately 5 million children of undocumented immigrants residing in the United States, more than 3 million are U.S. citizens….

Innocent children have been the unintended victims of increasingly aggressive enforcement efforts by ICE. The harm visited upon children of undocumented immigrants stems from the immediate and longer term detention of one or both parents, the tactics employed by ICE in carrying out enforcement acdtions (particularly home raids), and an immigration law that fails to consider the “best interests” of the child in detaining and deporting his or her parent.

One example from the report:

Miguel (a pseudonym) was a second grade student attending elementary school in Worthington, Minnesota. His mother, an undocumented immigrant from El Salvador, was employed at the Swift & Company plant in Worthington. Miguel was described by his teacher as a “happy little boy,” making real progress in school … until December 12, 2006. On that day, armed agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) raided the Swift plant in Worothington, detaining Miguel’s mother and more than 200 other immigrants who came to the rural community in southwestern Minnesota seeking a better life for themselves an their children. Returning home after school, Miguel discovered his mother and father missing, and his two-year-old brother alone. For the next week, Miguel stayed at home caring for his brother, not knowing what had become of his parents. Not until a week after the raid, when his grandmother was able to make her way to Worthington to care for her frightened grandchildren, was MIguel able to return to school. According to his teacher, this previously “happy little boy” had become “absolutely catatonic.” His attendance became spotty at best. His grades plummeted. At the end of the school year, Miguel was not able to advance to the third grade with the rest of his class.

Morillo noted the AFL-CIO and Change to Win labor coalition pressing for immigration reform, reported at length in the April 14 New York Times. He emphasized that legalization of undocumented workers would “raise the floor on wages” for all workers. Smith followed with a call for comprehensive immigration reform to allow legalization for undocumented workers and a path for legal entry for immigrant workers.

While representatives of labor and business stood on the same platform, their unity may not extend to all provisions of comprehensive immigration reform. Support for legalization of current undocumented workers is a point of unity. Nationally, however, labor and business split on guest worker provisions, with the New York Times reporting that, “An official from the United States Chamber of Commerce said Monday that the business community remained committed to a significant guest-worker program.”

Rabbi Morris Allen, one of the leading advocates of a heksher tzedek program that “seeks to affix an ethical seal to food that we eat,” said that this time was especially appropriate for a call for immigration reform, as the season of Passover celebrates “the liberation of the first group of migrant workers ever reported in our history.”

“Until our broken immigration system is fixed,” said Rabbi Allen, “the story of Passover can never fully be celebrated.”

Reverend Jose Santiago, speaking on behalf of the archdiocese called for an immediate end to raids and deportations and for compassionate, comprehensive immigration reform to fix a broken system. He told the story of an undocumented family with three U.S.-born children, who were visited by immigration police at the home they owned in Minneapolis. Describing their fear, he said they subsequently split up the family and lost their home. The mother, after fleeing from one household to another, eventually returned to Mexico, taking the youngest child with her. Another son is living with an aunt. The father and the third son are living in a house crowded with 18 people, many of them also undocumented and living in fear.

“In an era of No Child Left Behind,” said attorney James Kremer, “these American children are being forced out. In an era of family values, these American children are being deprived of the companionship, support and nurturing of their parents.”

Kremer emphasized that current immigration law does not provide any way for the parents to become legal immigrants, or for low-wage workers to enter the country legally. He is one of the authors of Severing a Lifeline: The Neglect of Citizen Children in America’s Immigration Enforcement Policy, a report by Dorsey & Whitney that was released in March.

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