Despite a self-professed sense of acceptance of newcomers and a well-worn notion of "Minnesota Nice," the state does not provide some of the most basic protections to the more than 350,000 immigrants and refugees living here, a new report claims.
From public safety policies that force immigrants to live in fear of deportation to some of the worst racial disparities in the nation in income, health, and educational outcomes, the failures undermine the state's values and squander the potential resources newcomers can contribute, according to a report from the Advocates for Human Rights, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit.
The study, "Moving from Exclusion to Belonging," looks at a number of federal policies that the report says have combined to create a sense of exclusion. Those include what it calls "meager provisions" of a maximum 90 days of assistance for refugees after arrival, and a six-month wait before asylum seekers become eligible to apply for a work permit.
But it also makes recommendations to state and local policymakers on such things as when police can inquire about a person's immigration status and on developing clear protocols for when to involve federal immigration agencies at traffic stops. It recommends enforcing existing state laws protecting immigrants from exploitation by employers.
"Laws, policies and practices exclude immigrants and refugees from full participation in our community and violate their human rights," said Robin Phillips, executive director for the organization.
The group said it hopes the 300-page report will be used to pursue change at the state and local level, particularly as immigration reform in Washington appears to languish.
It supports one bill now in the Legislature, for instance, that would give undocumented immigrants access to apply for a Minnesota driver's license. It argues the change would improve public safety and decrease opportunities for profiling drivers who appear to be immigrants.
State rules now require applicants to furnish proof of identification using documents that only citizens and lawful immigrants would possess. The bill would allow identification issued by another country to be acceptable proof of identity. Critics have said illegal immigrants should not be able to get driver's licenses or state-issued identification cards.
"We have before us thousands of children and young people, citizens whose future is at risk because their parents are forced to drive without a license and run the risk of deportation," said Jovita Morales, a community organizer.
Many of the recommendations would likely come up against the realities of tight budgets and funding battles. In education, for instance, the group recommends raising overall funding for public education and hiring more mental health professionals.
The report took more than two years. It draws on nearly 200 interviews and more than 25 community conversations throughout the state.
"Our tolerance for intolerance has gone down," said Michele Garnett McKenzie, director of advocacy for the group. "But as far as immigration and immigration policy, it's been dramatically opposite. It's been dramatically worsening."