SAHAN JOURNAL: Minnesota lawmakers revive proposal to limit state, local cooperation on immigration enforcement

SAHAN JOURNAL: Minnesota lawmakers revive proposal to limit state, local cooperation on immigration enforcement

02/08/2024 by Hibah Ansari

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“The fear of deportation has been a constant shadow in my life," University of Minnesota Ph.D. student Jesus Garcia Garcia said at a news conference supporting the North Star Act on February 8, 2024, at the Minnesota Capitol. Credit: Dymanh Chhoun | Sahan Journal

“Minnesota legislators announced plans to introduce a bill that would prohibit cooperation between local law enforcement and federal immigration enforcement. Bill authors Representative Sandra Feist (DFL-New Brighton) and Senator Omar Fateh (DFL-Minneapolis) joined advocates from across the state at a news conference Thursday morning to announce the North Star Act. Supporters from immigrant advocacy organizations such as Fe Y Justicia, COPAL MN, and CAPI attended the news conference. More than 40 members of the House and Senate have signed onto the bill.

“North Star Act is both about our values as Minnesotans, and is also a highly technical bill designed to create clarity and to ensure that we invest state and local resources toward the betterment of Minnesotans,” said Feist, “rather than wasting them enforcing our broken federal immigration laws.”

Fateh noted multiple bills that passed to support undocumented Minnesotans in the last Legislative session, including Driver’s Licenses for All, which allows undocumented immigrants to obtain a driver’s license. Expansions to MinnesotaCare also included coverage for undocumented people. The North Star Promise program provides tuition-free college for working-class Minnesotans, including undocumented applicants. 

“This year’s presidential election makes many Americans afraid of what might happen to their families and their loved ones,” Fateh said. “In these uncertain times, bold and decisive action to protect our immigrant communities is necessary.”

The North Star Act would prohibit state or local officials from sharing data or accepting funds that would require cooperation with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement—or enforcing ICE detainers. A detainer asks local law enforcement agencies to alert immigration agents if a noncitizen is released from custody. The legislation also would ban state officials from acting as immigration enforcers, as immigration is enforced by federal law.

Jorge Vargas Perez, a former inmate at the Faribault prison, was unable to access programs because of an immigration detainer. He was ineligible for work release, he couldn’t enroll in a drug rehabilitation program, and he was not able to access an early release program after serving two-thirds of his prison sentence. He was eventually able to get the detainer lifted. 

Vargas Perez has been out for two weeks and almost immediately began working as a paralegal for the Puerta Grande Law Firm in Minneapolis while advocating for the North Star Act. “Anybody in a similar situation as me that has a qualifying felony that will allow them to get early release—that are either residents or undocumented—they will be eligible for early release,” Vargas Perez said after Thursday’s news conference.“This bill will not force us to be in prison for more than the two-thirds of time that we’re supposed to [serve].”Vargaz Perez said removing barriers to early release would also relieve the financial burdens of housing them in Minnesota prisons.

Heidi Romanish, an advocate who worked closely on Vargas Perez’s case, also attended the news conference. “When we look back and see families torn apart and what it looked like to provide an underground sanctuary for people during the Trump years,” Romanish said, “the impact on immigrant students and the fear of separation of families that exists—this bill gets at that.” Romanish said the bill also protects the data of all Minnesotans from being sold or inappropriately acquired by immigration authorities.

Emilio Rodriguez of COPAL MN said that ICE has abused its subpoena power across the country to obtain sensitive data not just from law enforcement agencies, but also abortion clinics, schools, youth soccer leagues, and more. “That is what this bill is fighting against,” Rodriguez said.

Advocates of the bill also say that it will foster trust between state officials and immigrant communities. Jesus Garcia Garcia is a Ph.D. student at the University of Minnesota, who was brought to the U.S. illegally as a child. He is also a recipient of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. “The fear of deportation has been a constant shadow in my life. It’s impacted every decision I’ve made from where I live to the opportunities I pursue,” he said. “This bill will mean that I and others like myself could focus on our work and our studies without constant fear of deportation hanging over our heads.”

While versions of the bill have failed to pass previous Legislative sessions, Feist said the latest iteration of the North Star Act is based on feedback from community conversations and other discussions with experts. The Legislative session begins on February 12. Supporters of the North Star Act plan to rally in support of the bill on the same day at the State Capitol at 11 a.m.”

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