Debate over DACA hits home

Eduardo Calero sits with his children at City Hall Sept. 18. Activists on a bus tour met with federal and local offices to defend the DACA program.

When the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program started accepting applications, Mariana’s mother took a day off work to collect a single document from Minneapolis Public Schools. They waited six months after sending in the paperwork, worrying it may have been a mistake to share Mariana’s undocumented status with the federal government. Then the DACA card arrived.

“I felt powerful, to be honest,” said Mariana, a South Minneapolis college student who crossed the Rio Grande with her mother at age 7. “Now I’m able to do so much more than just hide in the shadows.”

She became motivated to learn how to drive and pursue a career in teaching. She was devastated to recently learn that DACA could be rescinded.

“Once I was over crying I thought, this is not over,” said Mariana, who declined to print her last name. “We’re going to fight to the end. Something good’s going to happen. That’s what I keep telling myself. … I am trying to stay positive, and just try to support other people like me.”

Immigration attorneys say life has changed for their clients under the Trump administration.

“There is more anxiety,” said Iris Ramos, an attorney with an office in Whittier. “I see a lot of people that are very panicked. They are afraid to leave their house. I see people that are afraid of even traveling domestically. I have people that are afraid to drive, that are afraid to talk to anybody. … Everybody is a target at this point, and that’s why everybody is so panicked.”

Pablo Tapia of Asamblea de Derechos Civiles (center) and others participated in a day of action Sept. 18. The group visited congressional offices and City Hall to “demand civil rights for dreamers and all undocumented immigrants,” ending the day with a sit-in at the Hennepin County Jail.
Pablo Tapia of Asamblea de Derechos Civiles (center) and others participated in a day of action Sept. 18. The group visited congressional offices and City Hall to “demand civil rights for Dreamers and all undocumented immigrants,” ending the day with a sit-in at the Hennepin County Jail.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) public affairs officer Shawn Neudauer said arrests have increased from the two years prior. Neudauer said agents are no longer working under Obama-era policies that prioritized deportation of undocumented immigrants with recent border crossings or criminal histories.

“We cannot faithfully execute the immigration laws of the United States if we exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement,” states the new January 25 executive order.

ICE and the Hennepin County Jail

When asked if they felt uncomfortable calling 911, every hand went up at a recent meeting with Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, according to Pablo Tapia, who helped organize the meeting through Asamblea de Derechos Civiles. He said about 60 people met with the chief at Incarnation Church at 38th & Pleasant.

“They were afraid,” Tapia said. “… We wanted to make the point across to him.”

Tapia called the conversation a “good start.” Tapia said the group discussed ideas for officer training and enhanced Latino outreach, as well as the potential consequences of entering the Hennepin County Jail for low-level offenses.

“Once they take them in, they leave folks with the Sheriff, and then the Sheriff is talking to ICE, and that’s where the problem lies,” Tapia said.

Existing policy prohibits Minneapolis police from asking residents about their immigration status. An officer who suspects an arrested person is undocumented may notify United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, according to the policy.

“There is no sanctuary for criminals anywhere in Hennepin County,” Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek said at a March press conference. “The Hennepin County Sheriff’s office fully cooperates with Immigration Customs Enforcement and all of our federal law enforcement partners to the fullest extent of the law.”

Neudauer said there are many ways ICE learns about illegal immigrants, including calls from the jail.

“We act on actionable intelligence, so if somebody admits that they’re in this country illegally, then we’ll act,” Neudauer said. “If we check the jail’s records, and we know that there are foreign-born nationals, whether self-admitted or otherwise, if we have records on someone who we may have encountered previously, then we’ll run those names and try to identify the individuals accurately before making any kind of decision about what happens next. We don’t do random, and we don’t profile or discriminate based on the way someone spells their name.”

Everyone booked in the jail is asked for their place of birth and citizenship, according to the sheriff’s office, but county officials do not investigate whether answers are truthful. Whenever inmates say they are not a U.S. citizen or born outside the U.S., the sheriff’s office said it calls ICE.

ICE can also access booking information through federal agencies. Neudauer explained that when someone is booked into a jail, the jail staff usually run their biometric data through various federal databases to see if they have criminal records in other areas. When that happens that data is shared among all federal agencies.

If ICE is interested in a particular individual, agents can request to speak to the inmate, and the sheriff’s office will notify ICE when the person is due to be released from jail. Inmates are handed off to ICE inside the facility.

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman has said the procedure is legal.

Out of about 35,000 inmates booked in 2016, ICE expressed interest in less than 1 percent, according to the sheriff’s office, and ICE picked up an estimated 50 inmates from the jail in 2016.

“Doing the business of ICE”

The process has attracted critics that include Hennepin County Commissioner Marion Greene, who toured the jail. Greene said the Sheriff’s calls to ICE go above and beyond what’s required by law.

“It’s not as if ICE wouldn’t have access to this information. What’s different is that it’s drawing attention. Out of these 100 files, I’m going to look at this one, two or three,” Greene said. “… My observation is that Hennepin County tax dollars are being spent doing the business of ICE.”

The Sheriff’s procedure is not under the jurisdiction of the county board. Instead, Greene said the county is in the process of tweaking language to make it clear that Hennepin County probation and Human Services staff are not interested in immigration status.

Ramos said she tells clients to remember their constitutional rights. If detained, they have the right to remain silent and the right to contact an attorney, she said. If they are not under arrest, they can always ask if they are free to leave. Agents need a warrant to enter a home and conduct a search, she said.

“Now it’s more crucial than ever for us to be informed, because everything you say can be used against you in proceedings,” she said.

ICE has visited community groups in the past year, including the Stevens Square Safety Committee last fall. ICE community relations officer Mary Hogan said she works as a line of communication to investigators and a point of contact for the public.

“I’m a human who will pick up the phone,” she said.

Agents want all the information they can get about people who might be in violation of immigration law, she said, but agents do not share information about investigations in return.

The community response

Minneapolis policy has taken a supportive stance toward immigrants, and the city is contributing to local immigration legal defense work.

“It’s life-changing if you do not have representation,” said Ward 8 City Council Member Elizabeth Glidden.

Glidden will host an early morning discussion Sept. 29 at Turtle Bread Bakery featuring community members that work on immigration issues.

The City Council is scheduled to take up a resolution reaffirming support for DACA today. The resolution also states the city opposes a wall between the U.S. and Mexico and opposes a bill that would halve the number of green cards issued.

A forum to discuss immigration at Minneapolis Community and Technical College Sept. 18 featured John Keller of the Immigrant Law Center, Congressman Keith Ellison and Navigate MN Executive Director Emilia Gonzalez Avalos.
A forum on immigration at Minneapolis Community and Technical College Sept. 18 featured John Keller of the Immigrant Law Center, Congressman Keith Ellison and Navigate MN Executive Director Emilia Gonzalez Avalos.

The Minnesota Immigrant Rights Action Committee (MIRAC) is holding a press conference this morning to urge passage of a “sanctuary platform.” The group calls on Minneapolis to join cities like New York to fund attorneys for ICE detainees who don’t have the right to a government-funded attorney in the civil cases. The group also wants the Council to create a municipal ID available to all, press the Sheriff to stop cooperating with ICE, reduce immigrants’ exposure to ICE agents, strengthen tenants’ rights and allow noncitizens the right to vote in city elections.

On the other side of the issue, some residents are lobbying against illegal immigration. Resident Linda Huhn of Lowry Hill East is a member of NumbersUSA, a group that lobbies Congress for lower immigration numbers. Huhn said she has many immigrant friends, and she said the issue is not about race. Instead the concern is a larger labor pool that suppresses wage dollars, she said. She pointed to an article by Harvard Kennedy School Professor George J. Borjas that says a 10 percent increase in the number of workers with a particular set of skills likely lowers the wage of that group by at least 3 percent.

“It is about respecting the law,” she said in an email. “… DACA is another amnesty and will only incentivize illegal immigration.”

Immigrants are finding support from some community groups. Members of First Universalist Church helped raise nearly $2,000 for a family whose father faced deportation last spring, said Heidi Romanish, who works at the Center for Immigrant Justice.

At a Lyndale neighborhood meeting last spring, Romanish urged people to patronize local businesses. Shops including Valerie’s Carniceria and Taqueria report that business is slow.

“People are afraid to go outside,” said co-owner Jaqueline Reyes, who said she’s seen a drop in customers ever since the election. “They’re afraid to come and buy stuff.”

A young woman who declined to print her name lobbied at City Hall in defense of DACA Sept. 18.

In the Lyndale neighborhood, staff noticed they weren’t seeing many immigrant and refugee members at meetings and events. They created a signup for volunteers to give rides.

“We feel that there’s a lot of strength in the community being together,” said Erin Cary, education program manager and ESL instructor for the Lyndale Neighborhood Association.

The Volunteer Lawyers Network is offering free help for DACA renewals 9 a.m.–1 p.m. Sept. 28 at Park Avenue United Methodist Church, 3400 Park Ave. S.

Kyle Payne and Judi Lamble volunteered at a Sept. 18 forum on immigration to provide legal services.
Kyle Payne and Judi Lamble volunteered at a Sept. 18 forum on immigration to provide legal services.

Mariana said her DACA benefits would end in 2019, about the time she graduates from college. Given all the uncertainty, she and her mother have decided to save more money.

“I’m not trying to worry too much about what is going to happen in the next six months. What’s my future going to look like? I’m honestly just trying to not think about it, because it is scary,” she said. “… Right now, I am focusing on the fall semester.”