Minnesota’s changing face

Twin Cities residents have seen immigration revitalize once-floundering neighborhoods.

Last week, the state’s chief demographer released a report predicting an increasingly diverse Minnesota during the next 25 years. Managing this demographic transition will take a healthy dose of Minnesota “nice” and some genuine leadership from the state’s elected leaders.

According to the report, the state’s nonwhite population is projected to reach 16 percent by 2030, nearly double current levels. The Latino population alone is predicted to triple.

That the face of Minnesota is changing comes as no surprise to many communities statewide. Twin Cities residents have seen once-floundering neighborhoods born anew with immigrants of African, Hispanic and Asian descent. Even Minnesota cities outside the Twin Cities metro, such as Marshall, Willmar and St. Cloud, now feature burgeoning immigrant populations.

Not all the state’s immigrants have been welcomed with open arms. A report prepared for the University’s Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs was released last month and warned of a growing backlash against immigrants in some rural and “ex-urban” communities across the state. The perception that immigrants drain public resources and fail to assimilate was surprisingly common.

Such sentiments are not new. U.S. history is littered with examples of tension between immigrant and native-born communities. But stereotypes and xenophobia in Minnesota are hardly surprising when state legislators periodically work to exclude immigrants from welfare and health-care assistance programs. The message they send to Minnesotans is clear: Immigrants can only jeopardize the state’s future.

Nothing could be further from the truth. As the state’s population ages and birthrates among native-born Minnesotans decline, immigration will assume an integral role in the state’s economic future. Nor are Minnesota’s newest residents “milking the system,” as one Hennepin County resident put it. For the majority of immigrants, economic assistance and social welfare programs function exactly as intended – as a temporary assistance on the road to self-sufficiency.

The prospect of Minnesota looking more like the rest of the country and, indeed, the world, should be a cause for celebration. But today’s immigrants will face their fair share of stereotypes and hostility. The state’s elected leaders can counter those misperceptions and ease simmering tensions by reminding Minnesotans that immigration is vital to the state’s future.