State agency at odds with Pawlenty on immigration

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More stringent enforcement of immigration laws and harsher state action against undocumented immigrants were announced by Governor Tim Pawlenty on January 7. Just a few days earlier, the Chicano Latino Affairs Council (CLAC) had called for comprehensive immigration reform and awareness of the contributions of immigrants to Minnesota. Rosa Tock, CLAC legislative director, said that the state agency had not received prior notice of the governor’s announcement, nor had the governor commented on the CLAC statement. (See sidebar for text of CLAC statement.)

Minnesota Chicano Latino Affairs Council

The Chicano Latino Affairs Council (CLAC) is a state agency created by the Minnesota legislature in 1978. Eleven of the fifteen council members are appointed by the governor, with one member coming from each congressional district and three serving at-large. Two state senators and two representatives make up the remaining four members of the council. According to its web site, “The primary mission of CLAC is to advise the governor and the state legislature on the issues of importance to Minnesota’s Chicano Latino community.” The CLAC statement said:

The Chicano Latino Affairs Council strongly endorses instituting a comprehensive immigration reform policy that is nondiscriminatory and consistent with American laws and values. The Council encourages an informed and open dialogue to address issues around the U.S. immigration system. Additionally, it promotes awareness around the contributions of immigrants to the state’s economy, culture, and society; and to ensure Minnesota is a welcoming state with a future of strength and economic competitiveness residing in its vibrant and diverse social capital.

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
· Recognizes present and future contributions of immigrants to the state’s economy and vitality

Minnesota’s foreign-born population plays an integral role in the state’s economy, although it reflects slightly over 6 percent of the state’s population when compared to 12 percent nationwide. In 2004, the top five sources of immigration to Minnesota were Somalia, Ethiopia, India, Mexico and the Philippines. Minnesota has the highest proportion of refuges of any state. In the case of foreign-born Latinos, it is estimated that 17 percent come from Mexico and 27.9 percent from the rest of Latin America. In the face of an aging and retiring population, migration – both domestic and international – will represent three-fourths of the growth in Minnesota’s workforce in the next decade.

The current U.S. immigration policy is unable to absorb the labor demand for both high and low-skilled workers through a functional work visa system; is ineffective to expedite family reunification requests, and remains uncertain about the legalization path of millions of undocumented immigrants. This broken system is inducing state legislatures to enact disconnected legislation dealing with employment, law enforcement, benefits and education. These remedies might cause economic and legal costs to the state and municipalities, and the perpetuation of an immigrant underclass unable to fully integrate to American society.

The governor said he would strengthen enforcement by ordering Minnesota law enforcement officials to work with the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to enforce immigration laws, by requiring state employees and contractors to verify citizenship through an Internet-based federal system, by ordering the Department of Public Safety to review Minnesota’s driver license database for possibly fraudulent duplicates among its 11 million photos, and by holding law enforcement summits to train state patrol troopers, Bureau of Criminal Apprehension agents and local law enforcement officers in “targeting criminal activity related to illegal immigration.” The governor also said he would ask the legislature to pass an immigration law package that would include prohibition of city ordinances that limit local officials inquiries about immigration status.

Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights called Pawlenty’s plans deeply troubling. Robin Phillips, Executive Director of Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights said, “The Governor’s actions stand to damage community policing efforts, create significant fear in immigrant communities, and prevent victims from coming forward. If one victim of domestic violence is too afraid to call, it could mean her life. We take this matter very seriously.”

At the press conference, many Republican legislative leaders stood with the governor. According to the Star Tribune, some anti-immigration activists attending the event said the plan did not go far enough.

The Minnesota DFL Party characterized Pawlenty’s press release as a “go nowhere proposal” that is substantially identical to the proposal he made in January 2006. In 2006, Pawlenty proposed to “create a Minnesota Illegal Immigration Enforcement Team, allow members of the new 10-officer team to enforce state and federal immigration laws, prohibit “sanctuary laws” — like those in St. Paul and Minneapolis — that prevent local police officers from inquiring about immigration status or enforcing immigration laws, enact new and increased penalties for those dealing in human trafficking or false identification documents, require law enforcement officers to record the country of citizenship and immigration status of suspects arrested in serious crimes, impose fines of up to $5,000 on employers of illegal immigrants, make permanent a state rule that requires noncitizens’ immigration status to appear on their driver’s licenses. [Pioneer Press, 1/4/06]

Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights pointed out that representatives from the Sheriff’s Association, the Police and Peace Officers Association, labor, business, immigrant groups, faith-based organizations, human rights advocates, and community organizations all testified against the proposed legislation in 2006.

“It appears to me that the Governor only worries about immigration during election years,” said Senator Patricia Torres Ray. Torres Ray pointed out that immigration is the responsibility of the federal government, and that state aid for local police and fire departments has been cut. “At a time when our bridges are collapsing, homeowners are struggling, Minnesota’s economy is stalled and people are worried about economic future, the Governor, again, is trying to grab another headline and distract us from his record of failure,” said Torres Ray.

Mary Turck is the editor of the TC Daily Planet, former editor of Connection to the Americas and AMERICAS.ORG, and has long been involved in advocacy for immigrant rights.

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