U.S. Sen. Al Franken was back in Minnesota last week talking to a coalition of faith, labor and business leaders about immigration reform.
Franken is pushing several measures, including easier access to databases for small businesses to confirm the immigration status of their employees. He also supports provisions that would make it easier for high-skilled workers to immigrate to places like Minnesota.
The Minnesota Business and Advocacy Immigration Coalition is a varied group that includes the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, the Minnesota Milk Producers Association, the Islamic Center of Minnesota and Minnesota AFL-CIO. It supports reform that it says reflects a 21st-century reality of demographics: Immigrants are needed to improve the economy and build stronger communities.
“What we are seeing is a coalescing around the need to get together and develop a rational system to take advantage of the fact that we are a country of immigrants and to restore the fact that we are a country of laws,” Franken said afterward. “We’ve been hurt as a country because we haven’t been living both of those strengths.”
Franken has pressed to ensure that reform proposals include improvements in the “E-Verify” system — which electronically identifies legal workers. Franken’s proposal would phase in requirements for verification for small businesses until the error rate in the system is reduced.
“The burden to small businesses is that they do not have an HR department. The HR department is your spouse at the kitchen table,” Franken said. “But it’s important we have a system where people who are undocumented are not getting jobs.”
Franken also is pressing for passage of his HELP Separated Children Act, a bill inspired by the impact of immigration raids in Worthington, Minn., in December 2006. In those actions, many children were effectively abandoned after their parents were detained. Franken’s bill would provide basic humanitarian protections for children affected by enforcement actions.
Mark Brunswick • 612-673-4434