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Immigrant Rights March in Minneapolis Targets Governor Pawlenty

By Sonia Aviles

Banner: "Pawlenty: Basta con los ataques."

Minneapolis, MN – More than 300 immigrants and immigrant rights supporters marched on Lake Street through the heart of the Latino community, Feb. 16. The people filled the streets with chants of, “Si se puede!” (Yes we can!) and, “Pawlenty, escucha, estamos en la lucha!” (Pawlenty, listen, we are in the struggle!).

The march was organized by the Minnesota Immigrant Rights Action Coalition (MIRAc) in response to anti-immigrant laws recently proposed by Governor Pawlenty. The march ended with a forum at Walker Church, where the protesters learned more about the governor's anti-immigrant proposals and talked about how to defeat them.

In January Governor Pawlenty put forward five anti-immigrant proposals. He also declared four ‘executive actions’ which can take effect without legislative approval. The executive actions are for the police to be trained to enforce immigration laws (a ‘287g Agreement’); for new state employees and state contractors over $5,000 to verify their citizenship through the national E-Verify system; for a review to be done of the Minnesota’s drivers license database to look for cases of possible fraud; and for law enforcement summits to be held to train police to target supposed ‘criminal activity’ related to undocumented immigrants.

Pawlenty’s proposals that will be voted on by the legislature are to outlaw sanctuary city ordinances in Minnesota; to fine businesses $5,000 for every time they ‘knowingly’ hire undocumented immigrants; to increase penalties for ‘identity theft’; and to make new laws allegedly to target human trafficking but really targeting undocumented immigrants.

Pawlenty has not said where the funding will come from to implement his executive actions. And analysts have said it’s unlikely that the legislative proposals will pass. Many people have noted that these proposals are similar to the anti-immigrant laws Pawlenty proposed in previous election years. One protester held a sign that said, “We are not political pawns,” and many marchers denounced Gov. Pawlenty’s pattern of immigrant-bashing every election year.

According to Kristen Melby of MIRAc, “Pawlenty is doing this as an election-year tactic. But even if none of it passes it has a real effect on the community. It creates a climate where immigrants are targeted. If we don't speak out against these proposals it creates a slippery slope that just leads to more abuse and discrimination.”

Responding to the E-Verify part of Gov. Pawlenty's proposal, MIRAc member Marco Davila commented, “Even though these proposals have not passed, many companies are taking their own initiative to send out social security 'no match' letters to their employees and have begun to fire many workers. These companies have no legal obligation to do so – they are following the poor leadership of politicians like Pawlenty.”

Gov. Pawlenty's anti-immigrant proposals in Minnesota mirror similar recent attacks on immigrants in other states such as Arizona. Since comprehensive immigration reform legislation failed on the national level last year the government has increased raids and deportations around the country, which are terrorizing immigrant communities and dividing families. Meanwhile anti-immigrant forces have shifted their focus to trying to pass anti-immigrant laws on the state and local levels to try to harass and make life as difficult as possible for immigrants.

According to William Martinez, who led chants during the protest, “The day was beautiful and unity was visible among the immigrant community and supporters who marched. There were workers, students, teachers and many more that came together to struggle against the governor’s immigrant bashing. We will build on this to organize a powerful march on May 1. The struggle continues for immigrant rights in Minnesota and for full legalization and equality for all immigrants.”

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