Emotional testimony marks hearing on Rep. Bob Barrett’s immigration bill

by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol reporter

Rep. Bob Barrett knew there were strong feelings on both side of the aisle about  his bill dealing with immigration data.

Barrett was right.

“This needs to go down in flames,” said Rep. Kerry Gauthier, DFL-Duluth, of the Shafer Republican’s legislation.

“I just think this is reprehensible,” Gauthier said.

Others argued the rejection of Barrett’s legislation and other bills touching on immigration betrayed a lack of backbone.

“I won’t name any names, but I think there’s a lot of people without courage at all to address the illegal immigrant situation,” said House Public Safety and Crime Prevention Policy and Finance Committee Chairman Tony Cornish, R-Good Thunder.

Barrett’s legislation, which he views as “mainstream,” would prohibit local government from restricting their employees from sharing immigration data with federal officials or cooperating with the feds on immigration enforcement.

Additionally, the bill allows citizens to sue local government deemed unwilling to abide by the law.

Barrett argued his bill was not anti-immigrant, but rather an attempt at tidying already confusing immigration laws by eliminating separate immigration practices established by local communities.

Such sanctuary provisions would attract illegal immigrants to Minnesota, Barrett argued. Cornish agreed. “Minnesota has a huge target on its back for illegal immigrants,” he said.

But law enforcement officials from the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul argued Barrett’s legislation would be destructive to their crime fighting efforts, break down channels of authority.

Minneapolis Deputy Police Chief Robert Allen styled the bill “an unfunded lawsuit against the city in waiting.”

The legislation, Allen argued, would limit the authority of the police chief to direct the resources of their department. Further, it invites any city employee — a receptionist, for instance — to delve into the immigration status of residents, he argued.

St. Paul Chief of Police Tom Smith argued that complying with Barrett’s legislation would cost his city millions of dollars for staff training, computer upgrades.

The City of St. Paul, Smith explained, has worked hard to gain the trust of minority groups within the city — the recent case of the sex trafficking of young Somali girls in part was broken because the parents of a young daughter felt confident enough to approach the police.

Smith spoke of the police having a “partnership of trust” with the community. “I don’t want to break that community of trust. This is the first step to do that,” he said of Barrett’s bill.

St. Paul police do inquire into the immigration status of people when it’s a factor in dealing with a crime, Smith explained.

Other critics of the bill argued that immigration status questions are asked when a suspect is booked.

Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek said out of the 40,000 people a year that go through the Hennepin County Jail, about 4500 report being foreign-born when asked to give a place of birth.

Although a series of testifiers appeared before the committee to testify against the bill, some Republican committee members defended the bill.

Cornish thought people were reading more into the bill than was actually in it, he explained. “I have no bias or racism against anybody,” said Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen, R-Glencoe.

But illegal immigrants themselves suffer under the country’s current broken immigration system, he argued.

They can be exploited, used, Gruenhagen said.

But some thought the bill wrongheaded.

Rep. Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul, spoke of how the daughter of Minnesota lawmaker fell in love in with a foreign-born man, and how her father expressed unease to him over immigration-related legislation.

“We’re not talking about us and them,” said Mariani of U.S. citizens and illegal immigrants. “We’re talking about us,” he said.

Cornish indicated that a vote on Barrett’s bill would take place in committee tomorrow.

Barrett, speaking after today’s hearing, said the opponents to his bill were a tight body, rallying to support their point of view.

“I just think there’s a lot of people in our state and country that have the opposite point of view,” he said.

Barrett deemed the idea of receptionists checking into the immigration status of people walking into city offices “a red herring.”

That would never happen, he said. Barrett would not predict how tomorrow’s committee vote would turn out.

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