Backers push for vote on driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants

Maria Negreros says she risks breaking the law each day to drive her children to preschool.Jovita Morales told lawmakers that in August 2007 it took hours to reach her two children who had been inside a bus that fell along with the Interstate 35W bridge into the Mississippi River.Anna Serrano wants to see her parents — owners of a new restaurant — to be able to get behind the wheel legally and stop relying on others for rides.All testified Wednesday during an informational hearing of the House Transportation Policy and Finance Committee packed with supporters lobbying for a vote on legislation that would make driver’s licenses available to the state’s thousands of undocumented immigrants.“I want my parents to drive safely to work without worrying about being pulled over,” said Serrano, an 18-year-old college student from Willmar who emigrated with her parents from Mexico as a small child.Sponsored by Rep. Rod Hamilton (R-Mountain Lake),HF97 would eliminate the need for proof of lawful residency in the United States to obtain a driver’s license or state identification card, something the sixth-term lawmaker and a diverse coalition of supporters said would mean more insured drivers and safer Minnesota roads.No vote was taken on the bill, nor on identical legislation sponsored by Rep. Karen Clark (DFL-Mpls),HF98. A pair of Senate committees have already approved a companion sponsored by Sen. Bobby Joe Champion (DFL-Mpls). SF224 now awaits action by the Senate Rules and Administration Committee. ‘Bigger than a license’Immigrant rights advocates packed a State Office Building committee room for the afternoon hearing, as well as an overflow space where they listened to live audio. While it’s an issue typically fraught with politics, Hamilton told the committee that driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants is a good idea for a simple reason.“We would have an individual who would go through trainings, would receive a license, then purchase car insurance and drive on our roads,” he said.But following more than an hour of emotional testimony from a list of backers that included immigrants and the children of immigrants, supporters representing business interests and labor groups, police departments and the church, Hamilton acknowledged the issue of letting undocumented immigrants drive legally on the state’s roads is about more than that, too.“If you listen to the testimony closely, it’ll boil down to one thing,” he said. “The Declaration of Independence, and the moral belief that it is a right; that we’re born equal to pursue life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We’ve had the conversation — this is bigger than a driver’s license.”Two years ago, state lawmakers passed the Minnesota Dream Act into law, making the children of some undocumented immigrants eligible for in-state tuition and financial aid. Continue Reading

Backers push for vote on driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants

Maria Negreros says she risks breaking the law each day to drive her children to preschool.Jovita Morales told lawmakers that in August 2007 it took hours to reach her two children who had been inside a bus that fell along with the Interstate 35W bridge into the Mississippi River.Anna Serrano wants to see her parents — owners of a new restaurant — to be able to get behind the wheel legally and stop relying on others for rides.All testified Wednesday during an informational hearing of the House Transportation Policy and Finance Committee packed with supporters lobbying for a vote on legislation that would make driver’s licenses available to the state’s thousands of undocumented immigrants.All testified Wednesday during an informational hearing of the House Transportation Policy and Finance Committee packed with supporters lobbying for a vote on legislation that would make driver’s licenses available to the state’s thousands of undocumented immigrants.“I want my parents to drive safely to work without worrying about being pulled over,” said Serrano, an 18-year-old college student from Willmar who emigrated with her parents from Mexico as a small child.Sponsored by Rep. Rod Hamilton (R-Mountain Lake), HF97 would eliminate the need for proof of lawful residency in the United States to obtain a driver’s license or state identification card, something the sixth-term lawmaker and a diverse coalition of supporters said would mean more insured drivers and safer Minnesota roads.No vote was taken on the bill, nor on identical legislation sponsored by Rep. Karen Clark (DFL-Mpls), HF98. A pair of Senate committees have already approved a companion sponsored by Sen. Bobby Joe Champion (DFL-Mpls). SF224 now awaits action by the Senate Rules and Administration Committee.‘Bigger than a license’Immigrant rights advocates packed a State Office Building committee room for the afternoon hearing, as well as an overflow space where they listened to live audio. While it’s an issue typically fraught with politics, Hamilton told the committee that driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants is a good idea for a simple reason.“We would have an individual who would go through trainings, would receive a license, then purchase car insurance and drive on our roads,” he said.But following more than an hour of emotional testimony from a list of backers that included immigrants and the children of immigrants, supporters representing business interests and labor groups, police departments and the church, Hamilton acknowledged the issue of letting undocumented immigrants drive legally on the state’s roads is about more than that, too.“If you listen to the testimony closely, it’ll boil down to one thing,” he said. “The Declaration of Independence, and the moral belief that it is a right; that we’re born equal to pursue life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Continue Reading

‘We Are Hmong Minnesota’ exhibit opens at the Minnesota History Center

The weekend ceremony celebrating the opening of the “We Are Hmong Minnesota” exhibit at the Minnesota History Center drew thousands of people commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Hmong American resettlement in the United States. The exhibit, which consists of more than 250 items, provides a host of written, recorded and raw materials that accentuate the triumphs and trials as well as the history, culture and achievements of Hmong Americans, who four decades ago began to make their mark in Minnesota.“I’m really excited that Minnesota has recognized Hmong Americans and they’re allowing us to put this exhibit here,” said Chue Vue, St. Paul School Board member. “We have been in this country four about 40 years now, and we have made our imprints here. To have an exhibit at the Minnesota Historical Society means a lot to us.”An ethnic group with ancient roots in China, as one piece in the exhibit explains, the Hmong escaped the Secret War and the Vietnam conflict in the ’60s and ‘70s and as refugees established a new life in the U.S. and other parts of the world. Another piece answers why the Twin Cities metro area has become home to the largest Hmong American population in the country:The most important factors were organizations such as Lutheran Social Services, Catholic Charities, the International Institution of Minnesota and Church World Services. These agencies, joined by individual churches and families, provided a welcoming presence for the Hmong in Minnesota. Continue Reading

We Are Your Neighbors: Things You Might Not Understand about New Immigrants

By PM English Level 5/6 Class at the English Learning CenterThere are many things that people in Minnesota don’t understand about new immigrants. There are many things in our culture that are different.First, our religion is different. Some new immigrants are Christians, some are Muslim, and some may be another religion. One difference for Catholics from Mexico and South America is that they celebrate Virgin Mary on December 12. Muslims pray 5 times a day. Continue Reading

Governor’s Appointment Draws Praise and Applause from Local Somali Community

It’s not everyday that a Governor’s appointment gets special attention, reception or special interest from local and international media. But then again, it’s not everyday that the governor appoints a minimum wage worker to oversee an agency that has such direct impact on the lives of thousands of people everyday. Ibrahim Mohamed, a cart driver for Air Serv is now part of the Metropolitan Airports Commission. His appointment drew more than fifty people, including Governor Dayton, members of the Metropolitan Airports Commission and community leaders on a chilly Tuesday evening at the Brian Coyle Center in the Cedar Riverside Neighborhood.  He is the first Somali-American to hold that post and was appointed by Governor Dayton in Febraury. Continue Reading

The original visionaries of Lao Minnesota: Phouninh and Khoutong Vixayvong

For the Lao in Minnesota, heritage preservation was robust and vital in building community roots in the late 80s through early 90s. Lao PTA and Lao Assistance Center of Minnesota had programs focused on Lao language, culture and arts; and even a Lao Summer School for youth. One of the many well-known leaders during the resettlement period was Phouninh Vixayvong, a retired educator with a fierce teaching style. She’s also a long-time social services veteran at Lao Assistance Center of Minnesota, where she still assists elders navigating the public system one minute and debating with Lao men in the lobby about the latest community issue the next minute. She is one of many maes to the Lao community, teaching the first wave of Lao refugee immigrants for 15 years and founding the first ever Lao Women’s Association in the state, addressing teen pregnancy and breast cancer awareness. Continue Reading

President Obama’s executive order is a good first step, but the work continues

Over past weekends, leaders of statewide nonprofit La Asamblea de Derechos Civiles have been gathering at local churches, meeting with the community, discussing the impacts of President Obama’s recently announced immigration relief.This is a Community Voices submission and is moderated but not edited. The opinions expressed by Community Voices contributors are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the TC Daily Planet.President Obama recently announced immigration relief for over five-million undocumented immigrants. The fight continues, however, and so does the work of groups such as ours. Antonia Alvarez, Asamblea co-founder and organizer, explains “The President’s announcement gives with one hand, but it also takes with the other hand. It is a victory, but there are more victories to be had.”Asamblea’s platform is one of Emancipation, the Emancipation of all immigrant peoples. Its tenets are:comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship,access to higher educationjustice for all workersthe right and opportunity to participate in civic societymedia justiceWhile Asamblea leaders and leaders continue to fight for comprehensive immigration reform and pathway to citizenship, its leaders also believe all immigrant communities must have access to the education, jobs, and resources they need to thrive in this state and in this country. Continue Reading

COMMUNITY VOICES | Minnesota Kurds Want Independent Kurdistan, Worry for Relatives In Iraq

Since the early 1990’s, a thriving community of Minnesota Kurds has grown  around the Moorhead area, and today numbers more than 1100.  Most of the Minnesota Kurds are from Iraqi KurdistanOn July 3, a group of Minnesota Kurds gathered at the offices of the Kurdish Community of America in Moorhead to talk about their lives in America, their worries for their relatives in Iraq, and their hope for an independent homeland as Iraqi Kurdistan faces attacks from ISIS extremists and deals with the challenges of harboring over a half million war refugees from Iraq and SyriaFor these Minnesota Kurds, their most immediate concerns are for the safety of their relatives back in Iraqi Kurdistan.  When ISIS extremists swept across northern Iraq less than a month ago, the Iraqi army crumpled and melted away, leaving the Kurdish Peshmerga army alone to face the ISIS fighters.So far the Peshmerga have held firm against ISIS, but relatives of the Moorhead Kurds talk of ISIS attacks along a 600 mile front every day.  All the Moorhead Kurds in the KCA office  have relatives serving on the Peshmerga front lines.  One relative was wounded in action near Kirkuk, hit in the abdomen by an ISIS sniper’s bullet.  Another Minnesota Kurd has a father who is  a Peshmerga general, serving near Shingal.  She shared her relative’s story about a Sunni sheikh who fled ISIS controlled territory and took refuge behind Peshmerga front lines.  ISIS demanded that the Peshmerga turn over the sheikh.  When her father and other Kurdish commanders refused, ISIS shelled Peshmerga positions, killing several Kurdish soldiers.Billions of American dollars were spent arming the Iraqi army.  Piles of those weapons were abandoned by Iraqi soldiers as they melted away, and relatives are telling the  Moorhead Kurds that  ISIS is now using this state-of-the-art heavy American weaponry against the often older and lighter arms of the Peshmerga.The Minnesota Kurds also reported that  Iraqi Kurdistan has taken in over 500,000 war refugees from both Syria and Iraq.  Often the refugees come from religiously and ethnically oppressed communities threatened by extremists with destruction:  Christians, Yazidis, Turkmen, Mandeans,  and even some of the few Jews left in Iraq have found shelter in Iraqi Kurdistan.  Relatives have told the Moorhead Kurds  that  the refugees are crowded into camps, schools, administrative buildings and shopping centers.  Combined with the war raging a short distance away, relatives are telling the Minnesota Kurds that  the Iraqi Kurdistan infrastructure is cracking under the stress: often there is no electricity and no running water, gas and other basic needs have tripled in price,  gas lines now can be over a mile long, and some basic foods have disappeared.The Moorhead Kurds said that while Iraqi Kurdistan has made great economic progress since the American interventions, the  continuous upheavals of rebellions, massacres, suicide bombings, ethnic cleansings and demolitions of mosques and churches in the rest of Iraq threaten to also drag down Iraqi Kurdistan.  For many Americans the Iraqi intervention has been a mistake and a disappointment.  But The Moorhead Kurds quickly pointed out that in one part of Iraq  the  American dream of a prosperous, tolerant, peaceful middle eastern democracy has largely been achieved:  Iraqi Kurdistan.The Moorhead Kurds said that Iraqi Kurdistan is the one part of Iraq to have used the opportunities provided by the American protection and intervention to build modern  institutions and infrastructures:  a functioning legislature, free elections, relative peace, and a booming economy with skyscrapers dotting the skyline of  Erbil and oil pipelines running from Iraqi Kurdistan through Turkey.  The Moorhead Kurds said this was in spite of the antagonism of the Iraqi Maliki government, who earlier this year cut off revenues for Iraqi Kurdistan.The Moorhead Kurds also stressed that The Iraqi Kurds  have a secular society:  that most are Sunni Moslems, but there are also Kurdish Christians, Yazidis, Shiites, and Jews.  They said that what bonds them together is their language and culture, not their religion. The Minnesota Kurds view  Iraqi Kurdistan as a Middle East island of toleration, moderation and democracy.Given the unending upheavels engulfing  the southern 2/3 of Iraq,  the Minnesota Kurds said that the only way  to protect this Kurdish success is for  Iraqi Kurdistan to break away from the rest of Iraq and become an independent nation.They said that many Minnesota Kurds want to go to Iraqi Kurdistan and help their families in this hour of need and hope.  But they also emphasized that they thought the best way for the Minnesota Kurds to help was not to pick up a gun, but to pick up a pen and tell others the story of the Iraqi Kurds, and urge elected officials to support an independent Kurdistan.The Minnesota Kurds in the KCA office also  told their own stories of how they ended up in Minnesota. Continue Reading

COMMUNITY VOICES | The timing is better than ever for immigration reform

For more than a year, members of Congress have debated significant updates to the American immigration system. With the 113th Congress back in session, the timing appears better than ever for reform. Our leaders must work together to find a bipartisan solution to fixing our immigration system in favor of creating pathways to citizenship, expanding our foreign worker programs and strengthen our nation’s borders.While it may seem to be a predominantly national issue, immigration impacts Minnesota directly. Nearly 10 percent of our labor force is foreign-born, and 5 percent of these individuals are business owners. Together, they generate hundreds of millions in revenue annually while providing for their families.At a national scale, there are nearly 12 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. These hard- working men and women are vulnerable to employers who exploit their statuses in favor of offering little pay and poor working conditions. Continue Reading