Advocating for immigrants and reform in Minnesota and across the country

Congratulations to John Keller, executive director of the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota, who received the 2011 Access to Justice award from the Minnesota Hispanic Bar Association. ILCM’s press release noted that last year they served more than 3,300 cases, reaching nearly 10,000 Minnesota individuals and families, who come from 95 different countries.

The Center’s diverse caseload should come as no surprise to Minnesotans. More than 130,000 new immigrants came to Minnesota between 2000 and 2009, from all over the world.  (MinnPost has assembled a complete list of countries of origin and an interactive world map.) The three largest groups come from Somalia (19,619), Ethiopia (9,571), and Mexico (7,045).

According to a 2010 Wilder Foundation study, “Foreign-born residents represent a significant and growing economic force” in Minnesota. “Their contributions as workers, consumers, and taxpayers are felt throughout Minnesota and are key to the vitality of the state’s service and labor-intensive industries.”

Proposals for federal immigration reform include provisions for a path to legalization for undocumented immigrants. Opponents insist that all undocumented immigrants should be deported, but the economic impact of such action would be severe.  A recent study analyzed the potential effect of mass deportations from Arizona and pointed out that such action in Arizona would:

  • Decrease total employment by 17.2 percent
  • Eliminate 581,000 jobs for immigrant and native-born workers alike
  • Shrink state economy by $48.8 billion
  • Reduce state tax revenues by 10.1 percent

In contrast, legalization of undocumented immigrants now in Arizona would:

  • Increase total employment by 7.7 percent
  • Add 261,000 jobs for immigrant and native-born workers alike
  • Increase labor income by $5.6 billion
  • Increase tax revenues by $1.68 billion

Representing individual Minnesota immigrants is important, but, as Keller notes, “the attacks on immigrants are only increasing in the absence of federal reform. We need all the help we can get to call on the better angels of all leaders to return to a fact-driven dialogue about the future and importance of immigrants in Minnesota and nationwide.”

On April 19, President Obama met with business, labor, and religious leaders and senior White House and cabinet officials, and once again “reiterated his commitment to comprehensive immigration reform” and said that he “will continue to work to forge bipartisan consensus.” Speaking in a teleconference on April 20, Angela Kelley of the Center for American Progress called the president’s meeting “an important first step.”

Kelly noted that people at the April 19 meeting raised concerns about “intense enforcement actions,” and that the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and 22 Democratic Senators have called for administrative relief, “and to stop the deportations of at least certain groups, such as young people who would qualify for the DREAM Act.”

Julianne Hing, writing in ColorLines, summed up the frustration of many immigrant advocates and communities with Obama administration’s increased “enforcement” through “silent raids” and “immigration audits of 1,000 businesses, and counting, across the country,” and through “Secure Communities” collaboration between ICE and local law enforcement:

[H]undreds of thousands of families have been torn apart. Even though the stated intent of such programs has been to crack down on hardened criminals, the majority of people who’ve been deported under Secure Communities had no criminal record at all, or had been convicted of infractions like traffic offenses.

Outside Washington, state and local battles over repressive anti-immigrant laws, such as Arizona’s SB1070, continue. In the teleconference, Catherine Han Montoya of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights warned that “2012 is likely to be an uglier year than 2011.” Montoya added that the battles have led to “developments of relationship and coalition with African American and other low income communities,” which have been key to defeating state and local anti-immigrant legislation.

Marcelo Ballvé, writing for New American Media, noted that 19 state legislatures have considered Arizona-style proposals, and 10 have defeated them so far this year. Ballvé also emphasized the importance of alliances:

Black legislators have been vocal in warning that, if approved, these bills could have unintended consequences, including damage to local economies, racial profiling, and diluting the federal government’s constitutionally-granted authority over immigration matters.

Subhash Kateel of the Florida Immigrant Coalition summed up the teleconference discussion that included advocates from Nebraska, Oklahoma, Florida, Washington and New York:

The enforcement has gotten stricter and worse every year, and makes lives really hard; [We] have to fight on multiple fronts – federal reform, state and local laws, to make sure enforcement is not done in a way that is gutting our communities as it is now.

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