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Archive for February, 2017

The Minnesota Immigrant Rights Action Committee (MIRAC) strongly condemns the Executive Orders signed by President Trump last week on immigration and refugee policy, which we consider to be rooted in the Trump administration’s white supremacist and racist beliefs about who has the “right” to be in the United States and who poses a threat of terrorism. Rather than achieving the stated goals of improving national security, the executive actions undermine our constitutional and moral obligations  to protecting the human rights of immigrants, refugees, and religious freedom.

The EO on border security and interior immigration enforcement signed last Wednesday directs the planning and construction of a physical wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.  The construction of a southern border wall was one of Trump’s more controversial and effective rallying cries during the election season. More walls and fences, increased militarization of the border, and increased border agents will not serve to make us safer, it will only increase misery and death along our border for people fleeing persecution and economic/political situations created by the United States.  The border wall constitutes a physical manifestation of Trump’s racism towards immigrants.. Additionally, it is a gross waste of taxpayer money. Despite his arrogant and guileless assertions that “Mexico would pay for it,” the EO orders the allocation of all sources of Federal funds for the wall’s design and construction, while preparing Congressional budget requests for the current and upcoming fiscal years.  MIT Technology Review estimates construction costs for about 1,000 miles of border wall at between $27 – $40 billion dollars, calling it a “fat chance” to keep costs in line with Trump’s $8 – 12 billion campaign promise.  Shortly after the EO’s announcement, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto cancelled his plans to meet with Trump, while reaffirming his country’s refusal to foot the bill.

MIRAC likewise adamantly opposes the EO’s mandate to build more detention centers along the southern border to incarcerate Central American refugees while they pursue their legal right to asylum under U.S. immigration law.  For several years, MIRAC has protested the detention of asylum-seekers in remote locations as inhumane and an unnecessary barrier to competent representation.  More recently, MIRAC has opposed the detention of women and children asylum-seekers in private immigration detention facilities in Texas and Pennsylvania as a violation of children’s basic human right to freedom from incarceration.  Existing data shows that a significant percentage of individuals arriving at the southern border from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala have viable asylum claims.  It is our strong belief as an organization that the expansion of the immigration-prison-industrial complex will do very little to further national security, rather it will serve to exacerbate the already stark conditions on the border for people who have come to the United States seeking safety and protection.

Furthermore, MIRAC rejects the EO’s mandate for the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security to engage with state Governors and local officials to bring new life to the “Secure Communities” program that was initiated under George W. Bush’s administration and was dramatically expanded in early years of the Obama administration.   This program, which finds its legal basis in 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, encourages local law enforcement agents to enter into agreements with DHS to “perform the functions of immigration officers in relation to the investigation, apprehension, or detention of aliens.”  The Secure Communities program has long been criticized for creating distrust of local law enforcement amongst immigrant communities, as well as distracting local police from their supposed  purpose of promoting community safety. Although many cities around Minnesota, such as Minneapolis and St. Paul, have enacted ordinances preventing police from collaborating with federal immigration agents, MIRAC has great concern that Trump’s EO will encourage the racist policing of immigrants and residents by law enforcement agencies that support anti-immigrant policies.  We are encouraged by the many state and local officials around the state who reaffirmed their commitment to reject cooperation with federal immigration officials, despite the EO’s threat to penalize “Sanctuary Cities” by withholding federal funds, and we call on Governor Dayton to adopt a statewide policy rejecting participation at any level in the federal Secure Communities program.

Finally, MIRAC condemns the EO that Trump signed on Friday banning the entry into the United States of non-U.S. citizens from 7 Muslim-majority countries, including Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen.  The EO further suspends all refugee admissions for 90 days and bars all Syrian refugees indefinitely.  MIRAC views the 7-country ban as a thinly-veiled attack against the Muslim religion, as Trump notoriously referred to his intentions of imposing a “Muslim ban” while on the campaign trail.   MIRAC applauds the immediate action of thousands of people who rushed to airports around the country to demand an end to the Muslim ban, and to the ACLU to file a federal lawsuit challenging the Muslim-ban, which resulted in a federal judge issuing a temporary injunction blocking the deportation of anyone stuck in a U.S. airport as a result of the ban.  MIRAC also commends former-acting Attorney General Sally Yates for her courage in defying Trump’s racism by directing Department of Justice Attorney’s not to defend the legality of the EO’s in court.  That Trump swiftly terminated Yates’s employment shall not quell our resistance to Trump’s racist policies, rather it shall fuel our growing movement to defy Trump at every level, in the courts and on the streets.

If you are interested in joining the movement in Minnesota, please visit our Facebook page to find out more information about our resistance campaigns.

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My name is Danielle Robinson Briand.  I am an immigration attorney at the Center for Immigrant Justice, a member of the Minnesota Immigrant Rights Action Committee and Chair of the State and Local Committee of the Minnesota/Dakotas Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.  Thank you for allowing me this opportunity to testify.

As Chief Author of HF 3, Representative Smith has been unacceptably vague in committee meetings this year about why his version of the REAL ID bill specifically excludes undocumented immigrants from applying for a second-tier “noncompliant” driver’s license.

This is not our first go-around on REAL ID, which failed to pass last year literally in the 11th hour of the legislative session, owing to a collapse in Conference Committee negotiations on this very issue.

In a post-session review, the Pioneer Press highlighted the legislature’s failure to pass REAL ID, saying that an “issue tucked into the REAL ID debate proved its demise: the idea of allowing undocumented immigrants to receive driver’s licenses.  Many senators hope that the state moves in that direction; many House members do not.”[1]

Representative Smith himself discussed the inability of the legislature to achieve REAL ID-compliance last year in a letter to his constituents, throwing blame on the Senate for “holding Minnesota’s driver’s licenses hostage because of controversial special interests” and “by pushing their fringe agenda.”[2]

Sadly, Representative Smith’s words reveal a gross misapprehension of this issue and a complete disregard for the public policy considerations that have driven so many other states to pass REAL-ID legislation allowing undocumented immigrants to access a driving-only license.  In fact, contrary to Representative Smith’s unfounded characterizations of a driving-only license as a “fringe issue,” there was bi-partisan support for this kind of license last year in the Senate and data shows there is a clear trend around the country toward including undocumented immigrants into state licensing systems.  This includes legislation passed since 2013 in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, DC, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, New Mexico, Nevada, Puerto Rico, Utah, and Vermont.[3]

Let us move beyond the false debate that has been presented to us thus far on this issue – that including an immigrant exclusion into statute does nothing to change our law.  The reality is that it is a significant deviation from the custom in Minnesota to delegate decisions about licensing requirements to the Department of Public Safety through the process of rulemaking.   We must ask ourselves instead about why the trend is swinging in the direction of licensing more drivers.  That is because legislators in other states have left the immigration politics aside and attuned themselves to the critical public policy issues at stake in creating a license for the undocumented drivers in their state.

Governor Dannel Malloy of Connecticut had this to say about a REAL-ID compliant bill passed in his state’s legislature in 2013 that allows undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses, register their vehicles and get insurance:

“This bill is first and foremost about public safety.  It’s about knowing who is driving on our roads and doing everything we can to make sure those drivers are safe and that they’re operating registered, insured vehicles.”[4]

I bring up the Connecticut example because I lived there when this debate was playing out in the legislature and I remember well that a commitment to improving road safety was the principle rallying point for both sides of the aisle to come together to pass the legislation.  Much like Minnesota, Connecticut is a car-dependent society, that has an underdeveloped public transportation system.  Before the REAL ID law was passed in Connecticut, there were tens of thousands of undocumented and unlicensed drivers on the roadways commuting to work, school and otherwise attending to their daily needs.  This is precisely the situation in Minnesota, where there are likewise tens of thousands of undocumented and unlicensed drivers on our roadways.

I implore you to broaden the discussion on REAL ID and encourage you, our elected leaders, to ask more relevant questions, such as: Why aren’t we more concerned about utilizing this legislation to improve public safety in Minnesota?  Why aren’t we asking for data from these other states to evaluate whether undocumented immigrant drivers are in fact getting driving-only licenses, registering their vehicles, and obtaining car insurance? And why aren’t we asking for data about the public safety and financial impacts of implementing such laws?

These are the kinds of questions that deserve answers before we move this legislation forward.

Thank you.


[1] http://www.twincities.com/2016/05/22/no-transportation-deal-as-legislature-finishes-work-for-year/

[2]http://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/members/pressrelease.asp?pressid=21002&party=2&memid=15447

[3] http://www.ncsl.org/research/immigration/states-offering-driver-s-licenses-to-immigrants.aspx

[4] http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2013/05/30/connecticut-lawmakers-approve-driver-licenses-for-illegal-immigrants.html

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