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Minnesota Immigrants Win Concessions from INS

By Meredith Aby

Minneapolis, MN – At a February 19 public meeting at Holy Rosary Church, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) yielded to demands raised by Minnesota's Latino immigrant communities for improved and increased services.

The agreement, negotiated with William Yates, national director of INS services, represents a huge victory for local organizers, whose year-long campaign mobilized thousands of immigrants and their allies. Organizers met with cheers and standing applause when they announced to a crowd of some 500 immigrants and supporters that the INS was finally willing to meet their demands.

According to event organizer, Jesse Huerta of the St. Paul Ecumenical Alliance of Churches (SPEAC), “We've been fighting for over a year and we deserved to have someone come out here and fulfill these demands. We feel positive about this, but we're still fighting discrimination from the INS.”

The February meeting was organized by the Joint Committee on Immigration, a project of Latino churches in St. Paul (SPEAC) and Minneapolis (Interfaith Action).

Last fall, Aljets refused to meet the group's demands, claiming his hands were tied by national INS policies. Working with Senator Paul Wellstone, the Joint Committee brought the national INS to Minnesota to answer community concerns.

INS concessions include: Training an employee at the Bloomington, Minnesota, INS office to speak Spanish; distributing INS forms in public locations; and setting up a national English and Spanish hotline for immigration information. Some of these services will take the INS over a year to implement.

The INS and the Joint Committee were unable to agree on other community demands and will meet again in April. In further negotiations, the Joint Committee will call on the INS to expand its office hours, to make phones available to detained immigrants, and to work with unions to ensure the rights of immigrant workers.

“This meeting is important,” said Jessica Sundin who attended as a member of Twin Cities CISPES (the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador). “After years of attacks on the basic rights of immigrants, Minnesota immigrants have turned the tables and put the INS on the defensive.” CISPES is pressuring Minnesota senators and representatives to roll back federal anti-immigrant laws.

Although the INS agreed to some short-term improvements in service, it has not stepped away from its heavy focus on enforcement. While millions of dollars are spent on deportations and patrolling immigrant communities, Congress and the INS do nothing to ensure that immigrants receive the services they are legally entitled to.

With the INS speeding up its deportation process daily, the Joint Committee is giving voice to complaints from Twin Cities immigrants. They say that the backlog of paperwork, the frustrating lack of Spanish-speaking INS workers and long lines at INS offices make it still harder to obtain and maintain a legal immigration status.

When asked what will come next for the Joint Committee, Jessie Huerta says the fight for immigrants' rights is far from over. “Our campaign is not over with these victories. We're fighting myths about undocumented immigrants. Most of them are tax-payers, hard working and deserve to be paid respect.”

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