Hundreds protest immigrant policies

The Phillips neighborhood protest was against executive orders requiring employers to run immigration checks.

More than 300 people marched in Phillips neighborhood Saturday in protest of executive orders that immigration activists say are problematic.

Last month, Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty signed an executive order mandating businesses and state government agencies with state contracts valued at more than $5,000 to perform immigration checks on all of their employees through a program called E-Verify. Pawlenty also ordered the suspension of the separation ordinance, which would require local police to enforce immigration law.

On Saturday, protesters joined the Minnesota Immigration Rights Action Coalition in a march against the executive orders through Minneapolis’ Phillips neighborhood.

This is the second march the group has held since it formed two years ago, when Pawlenty made similar proposals.

Kathryn Sharpe, University graduate student and member of the group, said the suspension of the separation ordinance will cause a lot of problems.

“We hope to bring attention to what the governor has proposed,” she said. “If the proposal goes through, immigrants won’t call the police because of fear and that is a dangerous situation for everybody.”

MIRAC is also sending three letters to Pawlenty, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., to open communication between immigrants and these officials, Sharpe said.

The original author of the letters was José Luis Cortez, a member of MIRAC and a Mexican immigrant.

“It would be a really bad experience to have this proposal accepted,” he said, through translation by Sharpe. “We don’t want the governor to feel like we’re not working with him. What hurts us is that he’s not taking us into account.”

Daniel Rieff, chairman of Minnesota Young Republicans, said immigration benefits the entire country, but people should follow immigration laws and procedure.

“We want to ensure that people the state hires have not confronted a fraud on the system,” Rieff said. “We want to ensure that people the state hires are people that can lawfully work in this country.”

Sharpe said the E-Verify program, which is maintained by the federal government, is unreliable and contains inaccurate information.

“It’s a massive database and, like any database, there are errors,” she said. “You end up with people who are fully qualified to work having some problem coming up. I think we just become some sort of techno-police state and I just don’t want that.”

David Winkler-Morey, a Minneapolis resident and social worker for Minneapolis schools, said he attended the march because he has seen the direct effect of immigration policy on his students.

“You see families afraid to go to school, afraid to go to public places, afraid to be part of the community,” Winkler-Morey said. “If you make a whole class of people illegal you create a situation where some people can’t participate in the democratic process.”

Kristen Melby, a MIRAC member, said the policies are a political maneuver timed to rile-up voters in an election year.

“We’re not going to sit by silently,” she said. “No politician can come out and say offensive and racist things that will have a real societal impact.”

MIRAC is planning another event for May, and is also creating a support hotline for immigrants.

“We hope to show that immigrants and their allies are still here and are still as passionate as ever,” she said. “We want people to be treated with respect, period.”