Minnesotans have a mix of views on immigration ruling

  • Article by: JEAN HOPFENSPERGER and
  • June 25, 2012 - 10:53 PM

The U.S. Supreme Court decision on immigration enforcement won't be felt immediately in Minnesota, but key groups say it will have an impact.

Legislators trying to crack down on illegal immigration said it has encouraged them to pursue a bill similar to the part of the Arizona measure upheld by the court.

Hispanic workers said the decision heightened their fears about any encounters with law enforcement.

And police chiefs such as Minneapolis' Tim Dolan worried that the ruling would undermine cooperation between police and immigrant communities.

"When police start asking for papers from people not involved in criminal activity, those individuals become distrustful of anyone in uniform," said Dolan, who is among those urban police chiefs nationwide who opposed the Arizona package of laws.

"Relationships are critical for us to do our work. This opens the door to the Minnesota Legislature to pass similar laws," he said.

In spite of those fears, the ruling on the Arizona law affirmed that the federal government, not the state, is responsible for setting immigration polices and law, said David Wilson, a Minneapolis immigration attorney.

Wilson predicted that the controversial policy upheld by the court -- allowing law enforcement officers to stop, question and detain individuals simply because they are suspected of being undocumented immigrants -- would be challenged after it was implemented.

"The part that remains, remains because it hasn't been enforced yet," said Wilson.

Although Minnesota has never passed legislation identical to that in Arizona, lawmakers have promoted legislation that would require local law enforcement to play a greater role in immigration enforcement. The bills never passed, in part because law enforcement organizations argued they already cooperate with federal immigration laws.

The difference between what happens in Minnesota and what will happen in Arizona now is that law enforcement here checks the immigration status of individuals only after coming in contact with them through traffic violations, crimes or other police activities.

Even so, many Hispanic workers in Minnesota say they already feel under the microscope when shopping, walking on the street or playing soccer in parks. They've been watching the Arizona case, keeping their fingers crossed.

"It is unfortunate that this is happening in Arizona and it is something that is going to have repercussions in a lot of states," said Victor Corta, 52, a small-business owner in Minneapolis. "It is sad, but what can we do?"

The decision already is creating confusion in some quarters. Gerardo Becarra, like many young Latino men, doesn't know exactly what the Supreme Court decision will do. But the 16-year-old is already taking measures.

"It's going to make me hide from police," said Becarra. "I'm going to wonder if police will stop me if I'm just riding my bike down the streets."

Minnesotans who want to curb immigration are disappointed that the Supreme Court struck down some of the toughest measures. Paul Westrum, founder of the Minnesota Coalition for Immigration Reduction based in Albert Lea, said until the federal government enforces its own immigration laws, states will continue to try to take the lead.

Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, one of the authors of a Minnesota bill that would have required law enforcement to take a greater role in apprehending illegal immigrants, said the Supreme Court decision "absolutely" increases the odds the bill will return next session.

"I think this keeps the issue alive," Davids said. • 612-673-4511 612-673- 4217

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