The Republican Congress is at it again. Not only are they pushing us toward government shutdown, but also, according to recent reports, they are essentially killing any hope we had of immigration reform—however imperfect the “Gang of 7” plan is. Once again, the United States forgets its history as a nation of immigrants and turns its back on those who by no choice of their own were brought to the United States by their parents.
Once again, we have to wait for our government to take action, as the lives of young Latinos are being toyed around with like a game of dice. It’s easy to blame the Republicans, I suppose, but aren’t we all to blame? How can we, as citizens of the United States, stand by as our Latino brothers and sisters are treated like second-class human beings?
We are all accomplices. The food we eat, the clothes we buy, the electronics that we use every day are all picked, sewn, and produced by workers making substandard wages—sometimes from other countries and sometimes here in the United States. The people that work in the kitchens in restaurants, the janitors that clean stores and office buildings, roofers, mall kiosk workers—these are people who make up the unseen economy, and we often don’t even see or notice them.
It’s so disheartening to me, especially because I recently had such an inspiring conversation with Teresa Ortiz, an activist who has worked toward immigrant rights since moving to the United States in 1970. I met with her just a couple of weeks ago and I saw how hopeful she was that finally, finally, Congress would pass some sort of bill that, if not perfect, was a step toward immigration reform.
Interestingly, Ortiz told me that Minnesota was a major player in the growth of the DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act movement—which I hadn’t realized—with progress made by the Immigrant Rights Coalition, Isaiah, and other groups. It was these groups coming together that really started to build momentum for the movement, she said.
Coincidentally, after my conversation with Ortiz, I happened to visit El Colegio, the charter school in South Minneapolis for a profile that I’m working on, and there I met two young women who have been very involved with the DREAMer movement and were participants in a hunger strike in 2010.
Alejandra Cruz went to Southwest High School, where she was involved with a Latino group there before graduating in 2003. After graduating, she and others weren’t able to get scholarships for college, or even a work-study position, though she was able to attend Augsburg College where she worked through school.
After high school, Cruz began working on immigrant rights. She was first involved with an organization called United We Dream, and then began organizing around the Minnesota DREAM Act. “We wanted to organize with DREAMers across the nation,” she said.
In 2010, Cruz went to the United States Social Forum, a national gathering of activists around the United States, and exchanged information with other activists across the country. After a group in San Antonio organized a hunger strike that lasted 32 days, the Minnesota group decided to finish their hunger strike here. “They wanted to pass the torch to us,” she said. “It was a symbolic action: when they were done with their strike, we started our own in Minnesota.”
Cruz started working for the summer program at El Colegio in the summer of 2010, teaching ballet folklorico, as well as community organizing. “We were using whatever we know in terms of dance and traditions, and implementing that knowledge into community organizing,” she said.
El Colegio has been the home for Minnesota DREAMers, according to Cruz. They would organize at the space and hold meetings and training workshops there.
Cruz’s cousin, Maria Nava was just a freshman at the time of the strike, but she participated as well.
Today, both of these young women have legal status, Cruz through the DACA program and Nava through the family court system.
A senior, Nava hopes to attend community college and get her certification as a nurse. She wants to work hard to get good grades so she can transfer to a four- year program, which at the moment she can’t afford.
I see these two women—intelligent, strong community leaders, who have temporary status in our country—and I think, “We need them.” These are the future leaders of our community. Why wouldn’t we do everything in our power to make them citizens—for our benefit, not just theirs?
Many times I’ve heard this be said about undocumented youth: they live illegally in the US because their parents made a bad decision; they are here at no fault of their own.
Statements like that have ALWAYS made me uneasy."
Ahmed Ismail Yusuf’s Somalis in Minnesota is a short book that sets out to simply and straightforwardly tell a complex story: the story of how the coldest state in the continental U.S. came to be home to one of the nation’s largest concentrations of immigrants from the East African country of Somalia. The answer, in a nutshell, is that they’re here for the same reason everyone else is: to live in a place where quality of life is high, employment and pay rates could be worse, and people are just plain nice. Yusuf will discuss the book on January 24 at the African Development Center.
I’ve been reading lots of commentary on the June 25 U.S. Supreme Court decision on Arizona’s anti-immigrant SB 1070 law. It’s pretty clear that the court was solidly against the law, as exemplified by the majority opinion that, “As a general rule, it is not a crime for a removable alien to remain present in the United States.”
The court struck down three of the provisions of SB 1070 and left one in place, for now. The provision left in place is the “show me your papers” provision that allows law enforcement officials to ask for proof of immigration status in certain circumstances. The court noted that this provision has not yet been put into effect, so they could not tell yet whether it would prove to be in actual practice a racially discriminatory violation of civil rights.
As Javier Morillo Alicea observed in his Thug in Pastels blog:
The Court ruled that the Arizona legislature had prettied up the SB1070 law enough that we could not yet prove that it would lead to racial profiling. And let us not forget that racial profiling was precisely the intention of the bill as originally written.
The court specifically left open the possibility of future challenges: “This opinion does not foreclose other preemption and constitutional challenges to the law as interpreted and applied after it goes into effect.”
Locally, immigration attorney John Keller, director of the Immigrant Law Center of MInnesota, characterized the decision as “very positive” and said it reaffirmed the primacy of the federal government in the area of immigration law and enforcement.
"On the police provision," he said, "I think it’s very important for the public to understand that the court saw the injunction of it as premature [because this part of the law had not yet been enforced.] … It’s not really a victory [for those who support the law]. It’s ‘We’ll judge that when we have a chance to judge that, as it’s applied.’ They do put in a warning about [this part of the law] — they almost predict that there will be challenges and say that there should be great caution and care."
Keller added that, from a Minnesota perspective, this should be a clear sign that the legislature should be wary of passing any immigration-related legislation, because when they do, they get it wrong and then spend taxpayer money to defend the bad decision in court.
Marc Prokosch, chair of the MN-Dakotas chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), agreed that the ruling was “a pretty clear win” for opponents of Arizona’s SB 1070. Prokosch recalled that last year, “There was a version introduced in the Minnesota legislature and it pretty much didn’t go anywhere. I think this means it won’t be brought up in the future.”
Young people raised in the United States but lacking visas will have a new chance at the American Dream, starting now, according to an announcement made June 15 by President Obama. The Dream Act generation won’t get a path to citizenship — Congress has failed repeatedly to act on that. They will get a temporary safe haven, through an executive order that covers anyone who
• came to the United States under the age of sixteen;
• has continuously resided in the United States for a least five years preceding the date of this memorandum and is present in the United States on the date of this memorandum;
• is currently in school, has graduated from high school, has obtained a general education development certificate, or is an honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States;
• has not been convicted of a felony offense, a significant misdemeanor offense, multiple misdemeanor offenses, or otherwise poses a threat to national security or public safety;
• is not above the age of thirty.
The president can’t give them legal status, but he can stop deportations, and that’s what today’s executive order promises. The status they will have is called “deferred action.” To get this status, each qualified young person needs to apply to the USCIS, through procedures yet to be set up. The status is good for two years, and will also allow the immigrant to apply for work permission. According to the New York Times, it could cover about 800,000 young people.
The executive order notes:
Our Nation’s immigration laws must be enforced in a strong and sensible manner. They are not designed to be blindly enforced without consideration given to the individual circumstances of each case. Nor are they designed to remove productive young people to countries where they may not have lived or even speak the language. Indeed, many of these young people have already contributed to our country in significant ways.
An email from the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota noted that the executive order will “remove the danger of deportation during a time when many hundreds of thousands of educated, employable individuals are living in limbo, and give them the opportunity to work legally and continue to strengthen their communities.”
What can bring the SEIU, UFCW Local 1189, UNITE HERE Local 17 together with Ecolab, Cargill, Carlson Companies and the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce? They’re all on the same page, signed on to a joint statement supporting immigration reform now. Also on that page are civic and advocacy groups, such as Isaiah and the League of Women Voters.
On June 9, the business part of the coalition brought together about 70 people in Brooklyn Park to talk about how immigration leads to economic growth and American jobs. Under the auspices of the Business Immigration Coalition, the Partnership for a New Economy, and the Minneapolis Foundation, three Minnesota business executives spoke about Minnesota’s need for immigrants.
One-third of U.S. Nobel prizewinners in science, medicine and technology are foreign-born, said Ecolab chair and CEO Douglas Baker, and 45 percent of patents filed in the United States last year were filed by immigrants. Baker said that allowing more immigration is essential to U.S. economic health. Current immigration laws severely limit the number of highly trained professionals who can immigrate, which forces high-tech companies to locate abroad, where the scientists are.
For example, said Baker, Ecolab recently bought another company and inherited a center in India that employs 50 people in research and development, almost all of whom have PhDs from U.S. universities. Ecolab could not move the people to the United States because of immigration restrictions, so all of them will be paying taxes, shopping, and buying houses in India, not in the United States.
"Immigration has been the engine of growth," said Hubert Joly, president and CEO of Carlson Companies. The contribution of immigrants to the U.S. economy is not something that ended in the 18th and 19th centuries. Joly said that immigration helps to create jobs, with immigrants at both the high tech and low-paying ends of the job spectrum. He said immigrants fill seasonal and low-paying jobs in the hospitality industry that U.S. citizen workers will not take, as well as immigrants with money who want to invest in this country.
For investors, Joly said, the current EB5 program is so cumbersome that investors are unable to come in, which means passing up “stimulus money from outside the country.” On the other end of the spectrum, Joly said, “the processes that employers have to go through to verify status are very cumbersome.”
Michael Fernandez, a corporate vice president at Cargill, noted that of the 30 top executives of the company, 14 were born outside the United States. He said that the argument that immigrants take U.S. jobs is without basis.
"We have people without jobs," said Fernandez, "but we also have jobs without people. What is actually happening is that there are certain types of jobs, [such as] high tech requiring advance degrees, that are going wanting because we cannot keep that talent in U.S. On the other side of the coin, there are lots of jobs requiring tough, physical labor, that don’t happen to reside in metropolitan areas, that are dotting the map in many small towns across America’s heartland, and we have a very difficult time filling those jobs as well."
Fernandez said that Cargill and food processing companies are finding employees in immigrants who are already in the United States, and that those immigrants are supporting the economic health of small towns and cities. He cited Albert Lea and Ottumwa, Iowa as examples of smaller cities that “would not exist without the immigrants who are now populating these small towns.” Unemployed urban workers are not willing to move to Ottumwa, Iowa for meat processing jobs. Fernandez asked: “Do they want to sit on a side of beef and do a Z-cut 25 times a day?”
The answer to unemployment is not either/or: either retraining U.S. workers or hiring immigrants, said Joly — it is both/and.
Baker noted that the employment/unemployment picture is not static — that hundreds of thousands of jobs are added and hundreds of thousands are lost, and there is no avoiding “change pain.” He pointed out that the Fortune 500 list was established in 1955, and only 71 of the original 500 companies are still on the list. The economy is dynamic, Baker said, but immigration is a core strength. “You have to ignore history and all the facts in front of you to say” that immigration is not an economic benefit.
Laura Danielson, "A Lot of People Are Dying to Come to the U.S."
The Minnesota House of Representatives, in its infinite Republican wisdom, just voted 77-52 to limit the power of cities to govern themselves. Specifically, in a vote cloaked with the grand rhetoric of protecting the nation from 9/11 terrorism, the House voted to invalidate all local immigration separation ordinances.
H.F. 358 is not a bill that police need or want to do their job. It’s not a bill that local government bodies want or need. The bill applies to all public employees, not just police. Moreover, a threat contained in the law will prevent most local government bodies from passing any kind of law restricting any public employees from overreaching. H.F. 358 authorizes any citizen to file a lawsuit “to compel any noncooperating government entity, responsible authority or designee, or other official or employee to comply with reporting laws.”
Years ago, Minneapolis enacted an immigration separation ordinance (Municipal Code, Title 2, Chapter 19). Similar ordinances have been enacted in St. Paul and in cities across the country. The ordinances basically say that city employees, including police, should not inquire about immigration status of any individual unless it is relevant to their job.
Mayor R.T. Rybak defended the immigration separation ordinance in 2007:
The role of the police officer is to protect and to serve every person who is in Minneapolis. We know that if there is a fear that reporting something to the police could jeopardize someone’s immigration status, including those that have legal status, then people will not come forward with the information that we need to know. We need people to report domestic abuse, we need them to report gang activity. We have seen many cases where people are afraid to come forward for fear that it will jeopardize their immigration status, even if they are legal immigrants.
The immigration separation ordinance means that when a victim of domestic violence calls the police, they won’t ask her about her immigration status — they will offer her protection from her assailant. When a crime victim calls police, they won’t ask about his immigration status — they will look for the mugger or burglar or thief who committed the crime. Police think that’s a good idea. The Minnesota House of Representatives disagrees.
The immigration separation ordinance also applies to other city employees. If your house is on fire, the fire department comes to put out the blaze, and the firefighters do not question your immigration status. The Minnesota House of Representatives thinks they should be able to do so.
The current Minneapolis ordinance provides that city employees “shall only solicit immigration information or inquire about information status when specifically required to do so by law or program guidelines as a condition of eligibility for the service sought.” Public safety officers may “Investigate and inquire about immigration status when relevant to the potential or actual prosecution of the case or when immigration status is an element of the crime.”
The ordinance details various ways that the prosecutor’s office can take immigration into account:
City attorney’s office - criminal division employees shall be permitted to:
a. Inform persons of the possible immigration consequences of a guilty plea.
b. Question and conduct cross-examination of a witness or defendant regarding immigration status.
c. Inquire about immigration status for purposes of bail or conditional release.
d. Investigate and inquire about immigration status when relevant to the potential or actual prosecution of the case or when immigration status is an element of the crime.
e. Take immigration status and collateral effects of possible deportation into consideration during discussions held for the purpose of case resolution.
That’s fine with the police and the prosecutors, but it’s not good enough for the legislature.
The Advocates for Human Rights published a fact sheet on the city separation ordinances. You can read the full text here.
Police departments are among the strongest advocates for immigration separation ordinances, which help to establish trust and increase reporting of crimes by immigrant communities. These ordinances support community policing and do NOT protect people who are charged with crimes. They protect people who are victims of crimes and witnesses — and that protects all of us.
Too bad the Republicans in the legislature aren’t listening to the police on this one.