In a joint meeting, members of American Association of University (AAUW) Women-Winona branch and the League of Women Voters-Winona had an educational meeting to discuss the current state of immigration in Minnesota.
Featured speaker, John Keller, Esq., executive director of the Immigration Law Center of Minnesota, noted that immigration issues are complex. First, if someone is found by law enforcement or federal immigration officers to be a person without legal immigration papers, that person may be detained in jail and may likely be deported. The common term for this status is illegal immigrant. Individuals may legally immigrate to the United States. They are granted entry by immigration, and are given a green card. However, one must remain lawful and work toward naturalized citizenship. A third category of concern is the children of parents who entered the United States without legal status. The term used for these children’s status is DACA, referring to the “Dreamer’s Act.”
Invited guests were Michelle Witte, League of Women Voters Minnesota executive director; Shelley Colvin, League of Women Voters Minnesota board chair; and Chong and Yang Shur Vang, Project FINE.
Project FINE is a local nonprofit that works with newcomers to the Winona area. It assists with language, education and citizenship classes. In September 2017, Project FINE held a series of Welcoming Week activities throughout Winona County communities to share newcomers’ cultural heritage, with the focus on community members getting to know their new neighbors.
Witte noted the League of Women Voters’ position on immigration is to assist people to register to vote and coordinate this within the state at naturalization ceremonies and/or outreach to communities prior to elections. Colivn provided definitional context to the discussion by sharing the terms “equality versus equity” and “white privilege.” Chong and Yang Shur Vang shared personal stories of how their children, born and raised in Winona, quickly assimilated to the American lifestyle through schooling. They also try to keep them knowledgeable about their Hmong culture, while recognizing the children know they are American citizens, not immigrants, like their parents and grandparents.
In the discussion, one major issue facing the estimated 16,000 children and youth in Minnesota is the recent Justice Department announcement that it would end DACA by March 2018, allowing Congress a window to take action to continue or alter the program. DACA people are the children of parents who brought them into the United States without proper immigration status. If Congress does not act by March 2018, “dreamers” may be deported back to their birth countries. Nationwide, that number is estimated to be 1.9 million children and youth. Many of these people, having been in the United State for many years, are in school or gainfully employed. Some are concerned that ending DACA could negatively affect the workforce. Recent polls have noted that 86 percent of Americans support allowing dreamers to remain in the United States.
Keller noted a current focus of immigration enforcement is on deportation. Since 1996, the actual rate of deportation has not increased. However, the federal immigration enforcement has increased the number of people under arrest. They are detained in local jails nationwide, and the federal government is paying $100 a day to local governments for the detention. He noted this is occurring in Minnesota, and the federal reimbursement is an incentive.
Many at this event related personal stories of their parents’ and grandparents’ immigration process and adoption of children from other nations. Attendees agreed immigration laws in the United States are very complex and will continue to be an issue of importance.