Approximately 250 people packed a small gym in Worthington, MN Sunday to partake in a dialogue between the immigrant community and local politicians about immigration and Governor Tim Pawlenty’s proposals. The immigration concerns of this prairie town inspired Pawlenty’s immigration report, which has triggered a heated and controversial debate encompassing the entire state.
The forum panel included Chief of Police Mike Cumiskey, Mayor Alan Oberloh, Mexican Consul Nathan Wolf, State Senator Jim Vickerman (D-22), State Representative Doug Magnus (R-22A), State Representative Rod Hamilton (R-22B), and Mariano Espinoza, co-director of Freedom Network for Immigrants.
There was a lot of consensus between the panel and the audience that Pawlenty’s proposals are not appropriate in their treatment of immigrants or for the economy. The legislators reiterated the crucial role that immigrants play in the Minnesotan economy. Representative Hamilton said he took issue with the governor’s initial proposal because it “focused on enforcement and enforcement only.” The panel stressed that policies needed to strike a balance. They stressed the necessity of a more streamlined immigration process and for more agricultural and service worker visas to meet the needs of rural Minnesota.
The audience expressed strong concern about the cumbersome immigration process, which leaves many in legal limbo for years and others without the opportunity of getting visas; the separation of families that occurs with arrest and deportation; and the need for immigrants to feel secure seeking help from the police without being asked their status.
The relationship between police and the immigrant community was a major issue. Many of the questions and statements from the audience pertained to contact with the police, including questions about when the police inquire about immigration status, whether the police work with Immigration and Customs Enforcement and voiced concerns about racial profiling.
In closing, Wolf addressed the vocabulary used in the immigration debate by telling the audience, “For those of you who call yourself illegal, according to U.S. law, you are not illegal, you are undocumented.”