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Storm Warning

Finding workers in rural Minnesota may soon become even more difficult.

In the 1970s there were very few Hispanic or Somali people living in rural Minnesota, or at least not in the area I knew growing up near Hutchinson, about 60 miles west of the Twin Cities.

We had Hispanic migrant workers who would come during the summer to help with Green Giant and other harvests. But all the kids on sports teams from schools such as Hector, Cokato, Howard Lake and Glencoe were white; so were all the local kids working in farm fields and barns.

Immigration was spoken about with pride: It was what most of their grandparents had done, and why the kids were born and raised where they were.

Today, most rural towns of more than a few hundred people have Hispanic residents. They make up more than 20 percent of the population in several of them, including Melrose and Willmar, 30 percent in a few such as St. James and Long Prairie, and more than 40 percent in Worthington. They make up 27 percent of the population in Nobles County, 23 percent in Watonwan and 12 percent in Kandiyohi.

Immigration has recently come to mean darker skin, non-European peoples coming into once previously all-white areas. It has become a lifeline, without which many livestock and ag producers could not operate today, and many towns like those mentioned above would be mere shells. And while there has been some friction here and there to this change, over the course of the last two decades, immigrants—especially Hispanics—have become friends, fellow churchgoers and coworkers in these towns.

But what appeared to have been harmonious coexistence is now fraught with trepidation, as “immigration” has been combined with “illegal” and “terrorism” by Donald Trump, before and since he became president. It’s important to realize he speaks of something many voters believe, including those in rural Minnesota counties that voted for him.

Some stats indicate there are good reasons to focus on undocumented and therefore illegal immigrants, and crime. There are indeed tens of thousands of Hispanics in this country who commit crimes and are deported each year, according to U.S. Customs numbers. The implication: They’re committing crimes at a rate higher than the average American citizen and, what about the thousands of others who are undocumented and committing crimes as well? “Bad hombres” as Trump says. Yet other numbers will show that on a percentage basis, other groups of U.S. residents commit just as many, if not more crimes. Stats are available on all sides on this one.

Another concern of Trump’s and those supporting a crackdown on illegal immigrants is that they’re taking jobs so many U.S. citizens want. I challenge anyone who believes this to work at a hog processing facility for a year and actually talk with those trying to hire people to work such jobs before continuing with such nonsense. The fact is immigrants for the most part have become the only people who will take those jobs—as was the case when many of our immigrant forebears came to this country.

Most often, it seems that people boil it all down to something along these lines: Why not deport all of the “illegals,” given they’re too lazy to become U.S. citizens, there are too many of them feeding off our welfare system/costing us taxpayers money, and they shouldn’t be able to get a job if employers would screen them out like they should.

Why not? First, there’s no route for an undocumented immigrant to apply for citizenship. The only ways to approach this are usually through employment, family reunification or humanitarian protection.

Second, we have a labor shortage going on and need workers. Plus, if they’re working, they’re not using the welfare system—to the contrary, because they usually provide false Social Security numbers to hold their jobs, the Social Security Administration collects money from them but doesn’t worry about whether it’s from a legit Social Security number. That means that those funds can never be tapped by those who contributed them—to put it bluntly, more money for us, not less. If Trump really wanted to crack down on illegal immigration, he could do this easily by auditing Social Security numbers. But this will likely never happen given that illegal immigrants are paying an estimated $13 billion a year in Social Security taxes.

Finally, while most Minnesota employers verify all job applicants’ identity and employment authorization through a federal form called an I-9, documents they’re provided may be good fakes. There’s also considerable criticism that the I-9 process itself is broken.

As a result, randomly conducted I-9 audits—or worse, raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)—can often find at least a small percentage of illegal immigrants within a workforce. In addition, there’s the PR nightmare associated with a raid by gun-toting ICE agents.

Previous presidents tended to go after illegal immigrants who had committed crimes. Trump has vowed to go after all illegal immigrants, including those who could have been living in Minnesota for 15 or 20 years, have kids in local schools, have been paying their fair share of taxes (sales, property and other taxes, as well as Social Security) and contribute civically to their communities.

The potential to uproot individuals from their homes, jobs and families is part of the scope of our cover story this month. Minnesota’s rural communities have been making great strides integrating recent immigrants—from Somalia, Latin America, and elsewhere. But this new social fabric carefully woven by employers, community leaders, schoolteachers, politicians, and, of course, the immigrants themselves, could come unraveled.

Our coverage this month approaches this subject with a nonpartisan, business-oriented viewpoint, however, looking primarily at the potential economic impact in Minnesota should the Trump administration continue to seek out and deport undocumented immigrants, and reduce immigration into the United States. Our lead story looks at the ag and food processing sectors; the second story delves into what the issue could mean for the entire state.

We all know the labor supply is shrinking here. If you believe we should deport as many illegal immigrants as possible, how would you propose we fill the resulting labor gap? If you believe we should provide amnesty, why is it morally OK to say one group can get away with breaking the rules when the rest of us can’t? It’s a tricky subject, with many viewpoints. What are yours?

RELATED CONTENT - Immigration in Minnesota
Chapter One: Trepidation in the Heartland
Chapter Two: The Real Immigration Crisis

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9/1/2017 2:59:31 AM

Steve Suppan
Thank you for publishing this column and these stories. A missing dimension from your stories is about why the Republican Party and the Farm Bureau will not include the words "path to citizenship" in any agricultural labor visa proposal, and how that refusal ensures a labor force paid poverty level wages, half of which are often sent to their families in the country of origin. Agribusiness labor dependence is not simply a business or demographic problem, but requires agribusinesses to demand a path to citizenship for their workers, so that they have a stable work force that can contribute openly to the communities in which they live. You may be interested in my December 2016 blog on this issue: https://www.iatp.org/blog/201612/undocumented-farmworkers-and-the-us-agribusiness-economic-model
8/23/2017 6:41:45 AM

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8/17/2017 12:41:08 AM

Sharon
I believe we should expect people to follow the law. Our Grand parents and Great Grand parents immigrated to this country.
They did it legally. My husband's grandfather came to the USA from Denmark. He had to have a job prior to coming here.
Keep in mind this was far before telephones in the country e-mail was un-heard of etc. He did it via the postal service. He found himself a job and immigrated legally. I also believe if you want to live in the US you should speak English. Why do we print drivers tests in other languages? The street sighs are not in another language. If the immigrant gets a license how can they read the signs along our roadways? My mother could not speak English when she started school. No one cut her any slack. She had to learn English. If you want to be an American that is fine.,do it legally and learn to speak our language. If you want to be an American be an American. We don't want to change the law, just enforce the laws we already have. Sanctuary cities should not be allowed.
The law is the law for everyone the same.
8/15/2017 10:25:55 AM

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8/14/2017 11:02:08 PM

Just Clem
So your worried about labor and whose going to do their jobs, but you over look that it costs Minnesota 188 million + to keep illegal immigrants in Minnesota? Last I read, it's against federal law to hire illegal immigrants.
8/14/2017 1:58:39 PM

Shelly Ingerson
What a bunch of crap. The one and only reason DFLers like DALE KURSCHNER want illegal immigration is for political votes and political gain.
8/9/2017 4:36:56 AM

Barry Blazevic
Hi- I have to disagree with some of your overall assumptions and attributing this all to a anti Trump enviroment.
I am a 63 yr old employer in the construction busness. Yes a white guy. I think you try to be more politically correct than i could in that
you blend the immigrates of all races as an overall asset to us. I think there is a basic impression that the hispanics are a good people, willing to work and have values. All they need to do is come in through the front door. The fact that politicians have kicked the can down the road so long is sad. We should have embraced these people years ago. The Samali people were brought in by the churches to give us a feel good feeling that we were helping others and now they are being catered to by race and religion.
My relatives in the St Cloud area are calling it "white flight" because of the amount of people trying to leave the area because of these people. I am trying to not be discriminating and am not as an employer but the social issues are as big of a part of the work force problems as where the people are coming from. I have never seen is as sad as right now trying to hire employees. The youth of today have every reason to not go to work and a social system that backs them up for it with safety nets that are totally abused.
My workers that are 50 years old and up show up every day no matter if the younger ones do not. Then when they finish the year with a good salary they are called priveleged. If immigration is going to work, the system needs to be cleaned up and everyone will hurt for a time- maybe not as long as you think. If it continues on the path it is- the people left pulling the wagon will finally revolt as shown at the voting booths at the last election. I do not believe that the illegals are paying the amount of taxes you mention and are taking advantage of a system that is over taxed now. I believe the face of the workforce wil be changing a lot over the next twenty years, but until we have the overall interests of this country obligated to look out for all of us it will not get better.
I appologize for my spelling and my rambling. I thank you for putting out your opinion to paper and I do respect you for that!
Barry
8/2/2017 6:40:21 AM

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