SE Minn. demonstrators call for immigration reformby Elizabeth Baier, Minnesota Public Radio
Faribault, Minn. — About two dozen demonstrators marched in front of the county courthouse in Faribault this morning, as part of a renewed effort by immigrants and their advocates to refocus the debate on immigration.
Some of the marchers carried signs denouncing Arizona's new law, signed by Gov. Jan Brewer last week, which requires police to determine the immigration status of people they formed a reasonable suspicion about.
In response to allegations that the law would lead to racial profiling, the Arizona Legislature on Thursday changed its language to require officers to scrutinize only those they stop, detain or arrest.
Other marchers called on Sen. Amy Klobuchar, DFL-Minn., to take a lead in Congress on a legislative overhaul of the nation's immigration laws.
Ernesto Velez, a community organizer for Owatonna-based Centro Campesino, said the Arizona law is a much-needed wake up call for immigrant groups everywhere.
"We're very reactive sometimes, and so I think it has created a positive wave of impact around the country," said Velez, who helped organize the rally. "It has given us some room to work around it, and use it as an excuse or as a catalyst to create greater awareness."
State officials estimate as many as 85,000 immigrants live in Minnesota illegally.
While critics of the Arizona law say it's unconstitutional, lawmakers in other states are seizing on Arizona's hard-line approach and are considering similar laws.
Several groups that advocate for immigration rights have said they will challenge the law in court.
In Minnesota, some Republican lawmakers say they'd favor an Arizona-style immigration crackdown. State Rep. Tom Emmer of Delano holds Arizona as a model. Emmer, who Friday captured the Republican endorsement for governor, called the Arizona law a "wonderful first step," and he criticized federal officials for taking issue with Arizona.
But immigrant advocates doubt a similar law could ever pass in Minnesota.
Martha Diaz, an immigration case worker for Catholic Charities in southeastern Minnesota, said since Arizona's bill passed last week, she's fielded dozens of questions from people concerned about the law.
"That's the fear," Diaz said. "Is it going to happen here?"
Despite that fear, Diaz thinks immigration will not become a big enough issue in Minnesota to create a political climate similar to that in Arizona.
"I think Minnesota is a lot more conscientious. I think Minnesota is a lot more friendly toward [the] immigrant community," Diaz said. "Arizona, the past few years have just kind of gone downhill as far as immigration situation, and I'm not seeing that in Minnesota."
Already two police officers, one from Tucson and another from Phoenix, have challenged the law in court, as did the National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian leaders. At least three Arizona cities also are considering legal action to block the law.
States that follow Arizona will take a big financial risk, said Katherine Fennelley, a professor at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs.
"One thing that prevents states from undertaking some of these ordinances is the threat, the very costly threat, of legislation, of suits that challenge these local or state ordinances in laws in court," Fennelley said.
The Arizona law is unlikely to be replicated in Minnesota, said Fennelley, who considers situation there an extreme case.
But she cautions that if the federal government doesn't address immigration this year, that could change for the state after this year's mid-term elections.
"There are voices in the Legislature who are calling for [a] restrictive measure," Fenelley said. "I think it depends again on the partisan makeup of the Legislature. I don't think anything will pass with the current makeup of the Legislature, but it's hard to predict what is going to happen after the election."
As the debate intensifies, one thing is certain: The Arizona law has re-energized immigrants and their supporters.
As many 1,000 marchers are expected to call for changes to the nation's immigration laws Saturday in downtown Minneapolis, one of at least 80 to be held across the country.
- All Things Considered, 04/30/2010, 5:24 p.m.