Immigrants, Wellstone discuss INS policies, community concerns

by Latasha Webb

The Immigrant and Refugee Policy Coalition met with Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., on Monday to discuss current issues affecting Minnesota’s immigrant population.

Minnesota residents told Wellstone their concerns about Minnesota’s reaction to the growing immigrant population and immigrants’ lack of knowledge about state laws. Participants also discussed deportation policies, financial aid for immigrant college students, and immigrant children.

“I just think the face of Minnesota is really changing. If we do it the right way, this will be a much more diverse and much greater place to live,” said Wellstone, a first-generation American himself.

Sampson Wilson, founder and executive director of the African Journal newspaper – the first of its kind in the state – told Wellstone he wanted to see more efforts to teach immigrants Minnesota laws.

Wilson told the senator he had many friends and clients who did not understand and were not aware of many state policies.

Some immigrants are not aware of driving laws, such as the insurance requirement; employment laws, including sexual harassment policies; or Minnesota’s domestic abuse laws, which many developing countries have yet to adopt, Wilson said.

Wellstone said he would bring these issues to the attention of lawmakers.

Community members were concerned with the Immigration and Naturalization Service’s policy of detaining immigrants indefinitely who commit crimes.

The detained are often called “lifers” because until recently the INS had the power to hold them for life without trial if the organization deemed the immigrant a danger to public safety.

The Supreme Court ruled June 28 that the INS cannot detain immigrants indefinitely and cannot automatically deport immigrants.

The court’s decision will immediately affect thousands of “lifers” whose countries refuse to take them back.

The deportation of immigrants can have devastating effects on their children, said participants, who discussed the practice of detaining children of refugees and asylum seekers.

The INS treats these children as criminals, Wellstone said, adding, “It’s just truly horrifying.”

Teenage children of immigrants also pay a price for their parents’ status as legal or illegal.

“If one of the parents are illegal or out of the country, it becomes difficult or even risky to apply for financial aid,” said Rebecca Johnson, a Council of Black Minnesotans member. She cited this as one reason immigrant enrollment in U.S. colleges is low.

Other stresses for children of immigrants include possible separation from parents, language differences, lack of previous formal education and struggles with past traumas.

“I think I’m living proof,” said the coalition’s director, Michael Yang. “I still recall the fighting, the struggling, the killing (at the refugee camp where his family was held). The teachers have no understanding,” Yang said.

Many community members expressed concern over the Minneapolis public school district’s predicted layoffs – a result of lawmakers’ new education budget. They said the lack of school counselors forced English as a Second Language teachers to become social workers for children such as Yang.

“There’s a real concern as to what’s going to happen to them,” said Wellstone.


Latasha Webb welcomes comments at [email protected]