Pawlenty’s immigration plan contradicts King’s values


“There is much work to be done to erase racism and provide opportunity for all. I hope Minnesotans will take time to consider Dr. King’s words and actions.”
— Governor Tim Pawlenty (January 10, 2008, Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder Special MLK Edition

Governor Tim Pawlenty’s public praise of Dr. Martin Luther King for his compassion and contribution to the struggle for human rights is contrary to the governor’s harsh and inhumane immigration orders and policy proposals.

Pawlenty’s actions against immigrant workers and families in Minnesota are antithetical to the moral values of Dr. King and contrary to his legacy. With the celebration of the birthday of Dr. King as a backdrop, Pawlenty attempted to associate himself with the values and vision of Dr. King, which is absurd.

Dr. King was a fighter for human rights. He fought against racism and economic exploitation. Moreover, he constantly struggled against the White political power structure, which legalized racism.

Pawlenty, the single most powerful political actor in Minnesota, is pushing for immigration policies that would perpetuate racial hostility and division. His January 7 executive orders and policy proposals on immigration are in diametrical contradiction to the moral and humanitarian values of Dr. King.

King supported undocumented immigrants

Dr. King spoke out on the immigration issue and fought for immigrant rights. He said, “We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for the victims of our nation and for those it calls ‘enemy,’ for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers.”

Moreover, he posed this question about immigrant rights: “What do we need to do to protect our brothers and sisters from other lands, who have come to find the promise of America but found the terror of deportation and raids in the night?”

Pawlenty criminalizes undocumented immigrants

Governor Pawlenty’s racialized immigration plans against undocumented immigrants exploits the prevailing stereotype of an undocumented “illegal” immigrant as a Mexican criminal. In his rhetoric, he frequently draws a direct link between illegal immigration and the crimes of identity fraud, drug and human trafficking, and gangs to justify his executive order and proposed immigration plans.

In one of his interviews, to dramatize his message, he displayed a handful of false IDs and pictures of drugs and guns seized from illegal immigrants.

Pawlenty’s Executive Order 08-01 requires contractors and vendors to verify the status of their employees through an untested online system; MALDEF, the Mexican-American Legal Defense Fund, has declared a similar law in Arizona unconstitutional and is taking that state to court.

The Minnesota governor’s stringent enforcement of immigration laws and harsher state action against undocumented immigrants is spelled out in his seven-point “illegal immigration” plan, which calls for the creation of a Minnesota Illegal Enforcement Team whose mission will be to question, detain and arrest illegal immigrants and assist existing enforcement efforts.

One of his most ominous proposals calls for changing state law to bar cities from adopting “sanctuary” ordinances that prohibit police from questioning immigrants about their legal status except when that status is an element of a criminal investigation. Minneapolis and St. Paul have such ordinances, and St. Cloud adopted similar wording for its community-police agreement.

Legality vs. morality

Legality, to many, means what is right, fair and just. But, social reality and history show that it can stand for the absolute opposite of morality. One glaring example was the legality of Black slavery, which was protected under the U.S. Constitution.

The government ruthlessly prosecuted people of moral conscience who aided and abetted runaway slaves seeking freedom. Today, in the name law and order, the government is hunting down many undocumented immigrants seeking a better life.

What would King do?

Pawlenty’s seven-point “illegal immigration” plan fosters the type of racism that Dr. King fought so hard to eradicate. It is hypocritical and insulting for Pawlenty to pretend to embrace the social justice values of Dr. King while he is using his executive privilege and enormous political power to scapegoat and criminalize brown Latinos.

If Pawlenty were sincere about supporting human rights as they apply to the controversy around undocumented immigrants, he would accept and act on the recommendations of the Chicano Latino Affairs Council (CLAC). The Council supports a fair and just immigration policy that:

• Respects the human and civil rights of immigrants and their families;
• Includes provisions that expand work visas for both low- and high-skilled workers;
• Offers measures to prioritize and expedite family reunification;
• Provides pathways for an earned legalization program for unauthorized immigrants;
• Procures an integration pipeline to ensure equitable access to education, health care, and English and civic classes; and
• Recognizes present and future contributions of immigrants to the state’s economy and vitality.

Dr. Luke Tripp is professor and chair of the Department of Community Studies at St. Cloud State University; he welcomes reader responses to

Dr. Margaret A. Villanueva is professor of community development in the Department of Community Studies at St. Cloud State University.