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Growing Movement for Justice Says: Beat Back Attacks on Immigrants

by Meredith Aby-Keirstead |
October 1, 1998
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Minneapolis, MN - One hundred and fifty people took to the streets on August 8, 1998, to protest Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) policy in Minnesota. Chants of "Not my border, Not my war, Stop the INS!" and "Papeles Para Todos (Papers for Everyone)" echoed along the one mile plus march route through South Minneapolis. Participants were energized by the Danzantes, a local Aztec dance group that accompanied the march.

"I feel like a lot of people got our message either in person or from the news coverage. I was inspired by how so many people supported our message! Minnesotans understand how important it is to support immigrant rights!" said march organizer John Till of Twin Cities CISPES, Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador.

Over twenty community organizations endorsed the rally. Jessie Huerta and Alberto Puga from SPEAC (St. Paul Ecumenical Alliance of Churches) spoke about their fight for the local director of the INS, Curtis Aljets, to meet the nine demands of the Latino community. Demands include more Spanish speaking office staff, and a Spanish accessible hotline for families of the detained.

Yee Won Chong from Women Against Military Madness spoke about her own experience as an asylee, and Barb Bordner from the Welfare Rights Committee spoke about her group’s fight for immigrants to receive the government assistance they deserve. Two elected officials also spoke in favor of immigrants’ rights: Karen Clark, a State Legislator, and Jim Niland, a member of the Minneapolis City Council.

Councilman Niland stated that imperialism and colonialism has made many developing countries unlivable. He denounced INS repression against undocumented workers. He spoke out against unjust enforcement of the new laws. He noted that the INS targets Latinos when there have always been people in this country without papers.

The INS responded to the action by claiming that CISPES was leading a "campaign of misinformation."

Immigrants' Rights Campaign

"We are building an alliance between progressive and immigrant communities here in Minnesota. This alliance will become an important force for change!" said CISPES activist Jessica Sundin.

The Twin Cities has become a hotbed of activism against the INS. Local INS director, Curtis Aljets, has been put on notice that immigrant and non-immigrant communities do not support his agency's actions. The local struggle for immigrants’ rights has included mass meetings lead by SPEAC and Interfaith Action with the INS and the park police.

SPEAC and Interfaith are church based coalitions fighting injustice in INS enforcement. They are campaigning for more information to their community from the INS so that families will be able to call the agency if a loved one has been detained. They have already won several concessions from the INS and are in the process of increasing their pressure. They plan more public meetings this fall.

CISPES has been campaigning this year as well. They have collected over 1100 signatures on a petition to the INS to end its raids and harassment. CISPES also organized the August 8th march and rally to protest increasing raids in Minneapolis, including the raids of public parks this summer.

Immigration in Minnesota

Immigrants come to Minnesota to be with their families and to flee political repression, war, and poverty. CISPES activist Dan Palahniuk points out that immigration policy is politically motivated. "In the 1980s, Congress gave special treatment to immigrants from Cuba and Nicaragua because the US government did not support the governments in place there. At the same time, people from Guatemala and El Salvador were fleeing political violence and civil wars, and had to immigrate illegally. The INS denied legal status because our government supported the dictatorships they fled. We believe that no one is legal and that labeling people illegal doesn’t address why people come to the US," he said.

The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) has stepped up its deportation efforts in Minnesota. In 1996, Congress gave a mandate to the INS for stricter enforcement and increased funding to the agency. So far in 1998, deportations from Minnesota are four times the numbers in 1992. Minnesota has become number three in the nation for workplace raids. The INS has conducted raids in public parks, apartment buildings, and community centers. The INS has increased the number of people they deport through INS - police cooperation. The police assist in over 80 percent of all deportation cases in Minnesota.

These raids and deportations destroy immigrant communities. Immigrants are afraid to use public spaces and to call the police. Community fear impacts community safety and domestic violence. And parents and children are being separated brutally and suddenly by deportation.

Activists in the Twin Cities pledge to continue organizing. “Only through educating the immigrant community about their rights and educating non-immigrants about their responsibility can we pressure for real change. We are committed to doing that!” said CISPES activist Dan Palahniuk.

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