With the Trumped-up debate about deportation, birthright citizenship and a border fence stealing the GOP presidential-campaign show, the immigration story in U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s new memoir seems propitiously timed.
Many Minnesotans know the state’s 55-year-old senior senator as the daughter of a Star Tribune columnist, granddaughter of an Iron Range miner and great-granddaughter of Slovenian immigrants. That’s the Klobuchar line.
“The Senator Next Door,” the book released last week in which the senator demonstrates that she inherited a goodly portion of her father’s writing chops, includes a less familiar story about her mother’s line, the Heubergers. Those grandparents were Swiss immigrants who settled in Milwaukee.
Her grandpa Martin got there by way of Ellis Island, then Toronto, then Detroit. At Ellis Island in October 1923, he was told that month’s quota for Swiss immigrants had been filled. No problem, he replied; he was merely passing through the U.S. port of entry on his way to Canada. When he turned up in Detroit less than a week later, U.S. authorities admitted him as a Canadian “resident alien.”
Martin Heuberger had gamed the system. He got away with it until 1940, when the U.S. government set out to register all resident aliens — the better to deport or imprison them in the event of war, his family feared. He crossed his fingers and registered without incident, then hurriedly applied for citizenship. His naturalization papers arrived less than three weeks before Pearl Harbor and the U.S. entry into World War II.
“If my grandpa had come in under these terms today — an alien, entering the country twice to beat the quotas, at one point filling out a form without giving all of the correct details on his place of entry — I often wonder what would have happened to him,” Klobuchar wrote. “Would he have been deported after living in the country for 18 years? Maybe. Would he have been affected by the anti-immigrant sentiment so commonplace now? Absolutely.”
A lot of Minnesota families — maybe most of them — have immigration stories of their own. Most don’t involve a sneaky sidetrip through Canada. But many involve enough hardship and hostility for harsh memories to be passed down to the third and fourth generations. Most are retold today with a sense of pride in what those in the first generation accomplished for their offspring and their new homeland.
That heritage is one reason I doubt that Donald Trump’s immigration ideas will win wide support in the North Star State. To be sure, Minnesotans dislike illegal immigration. “No one wants that,” Klobuchar said when I caught up with her last week. She has long favored policies to make illegal immigration more difficult and legal immigration a more accessible norm. She voted for a bill that would have done just that in 2013, only to see it die in the U.S. House.
But compared with other Americans, “in Minnesota we tend to be a little more open to immigration,” Klobuchar observed. “There really is a sense of internationalism in the heartland … .When you look back at your own story, you may find out that not every ‘t’ was crossed and every ‘i’ was dotted.”
Minnesota thinking about immigration also diverges from Trump’s for another reason. As Klobuchar put it: “It’s understood in Minnesota that we’re going to start losing businesses if we can’t find more workers.”
A shortage of workers figures prominently in this state’s economic forecast, and is already being felt in a number of places and industries. After many decades in which growth in the state’s workforce (ages 16 to 64) exceeded 25,000 people, the current decade’s growth is projected to fall to 8,000, according to state demographer Susan Brower. Between 2020 and 2030, only 4,000 more people are expected to join the state’s workforce — and that’s only if in-migration from other places continues “similar to what we have been seeing in recent years.”
Without migration (both foreign and domestic), the state’s population growth rate already would be dropping fast, Brower has been telling state audiences. By 2040 and for decades thereafter, deaths are forecast to outnumber births among the state’s native population. “Minnesota will need migration to grow at all,” her PowerPoint slides say.
In Minnesota’s experience, immigrants are workers: In 2013, foreign-born men in Minnesota were just as likely to be employed as those born in the United States. Minnesota’s immigrants are consumers: They spent $7.7 billion in the state in 2013, according to the Minnesota Business Immigration Coalition. Immigrants are business owners: They comprised 7 percent of the state’s population and 6 percent of its business owners as of 2011, by the coalition’s count. About 40 percent of Minnesota’s Fortune 500 firms were founded by either an immigrant or the child of an immigrant, it noted last year.
Those are among the reasons that the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce has been a vocal proponent of state and national policies that welcome immigrants. And why that bunch must be discomfited by how warmly the nation’s Republican base has embraced Trump’s calls for a southern border wall, an end to the citizenship-at-birth guarantee of the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment, and mass deportation of an estimated 11 million undocumented non-natives.
Trump also has said that he favors “a pause” in legal immigration. Minnesotans need to know that it’s a call for a pause — or worse — in their state’s economic growth.
“It’s so easy to be negative [about immigration] until you know the facts and know the people,” Klobuchar allowed.
For many Minnesotans, the people associated with immigration are family, coworkers, customers and neighbors. The fact of a labor shortage is increasingly plain. And the need to bring Minnesota’s perspective to bear on the national immigration debate is keen. Maybe an ambitious senator with a new book to tout can be of service.
Lori Sturdevant, an editorial writer and columnist, is at email@example.com.