The politics of immigration

The immigration question seems to only make headlines during elections.

Last Saturday, in protest to Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s recent immigration proposals, nearly 200 demonstrators took to Lake Street in Minneapolis for a half-hour march.

In January, Pawlenty signed an executive order to change official state policy toward illegal immigrants. The directive included a requirement for some state law enforcement officers to assist federal agents in enforcing immigration laws. Pawlenty also instructed the Department of Public Safety to verify photos in the state’s driver’s license database and ordered state agencies to require new employees and contractors to prove their citizenship.

However, the executive order will have little effect on controlling the number of illegal immigrants in Minnesota; it is too narrow in scope and does not address why people illegally immigrate to the state.

As the governor issued the executive order in a press conference last month, he used terms such as “criminal,” “fraud,” “theft,” “human trafficking” and “violent gangs.” While these words are applicable to illegal immigration, they do not represent the majority of immigrants – illegal or not – that have come to America and, more specifically, to Minnesota.

Pawlenty has also proposed legislation to require municipalities to end sanctuary laws. This would prohibit cities from preventing police officers from inquiring into a person’s immigration status. Terminating the sanctuary laws, which cities use to ensure dialogue between immigrants and police, will escalate tensions between races, as racial profiling will undoubtedly increase since non-whites would be questioned most often. Immigrants, no matter their citizenship status, would also be less likely to cooperate with the police or even report a crime as they would fear prejudice, fines, jail time or deportation.

Realistically, the Legislature should be focusing on Pawlenty’s other proposal – to increase penalties for employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants. If no employers are able to hire illegal immigrants, then immigrants will be forced to take legal avenues toward citizenship.