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5 immigration stories to watch in 2017

With a new administration in White House and new lawmakers in the State Capitol, immigration issues will remain crucial in 2017. 

A Dec. 10 rally in Minneapolis, organized to celebrate Human Rights Day, drew a particularly large crowd in response to anti-immigrant rhetoric during the General Election.
MinnPost photo by Kristoffer Tigue

In 2016, immigration issues took center stage in the United States, thanks to a presidential campaign and the influx of refugees and migrants escaping violence in the Middle East and Central America.

In response, many Republican leaders proposed tougher laws restricting entry of certain groups. President-elect Donald Trump, for instance, vowed to erect a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, deport unauthorized immigrants and bar Muslim refugees from entering the country. If Trump follows through on those campaign pledges, his immigration policy proposals will impact many of the 400,000 foreign-born Minnesotans and their loved ones.  

Looking ahead to 2017, with a new administration coming to the White House and new officials taking seats at the State Capitol, immigration issues will remain crucial. Here are some to keep an eye on in the coming year:

1. The arrival of new refugees in Minnesota

With its strong refugee resettlement programs and established immigrant communities, Minnesota has long been a destination for many refugees — and especially those escaping violence in East Africa, Southeast Asia and the Middle East.

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According to a recent AP report, Minnesota will receive 2,505 refugees next year, though it isn’t yet clear which countries they will come from. In the past two years, though, most of the refugees have come from Burma, Ethiopia and Somalia.

In 2016, for instance, Minnesota took in 2,528 refugees. Of those, according to the Minnesota Department of Human Services, about 1,000 were Somalis; nearly 560 were Burmese and 257 were Ethiopians.

In 2015 and 2016, the state resettled only 39 refugees from Syria. Still, Trump has advocated for a moratorium on accepting Syrians for resettlement, citing terrorism fears. So as we head into the new year, will immigration authorities admit more or less – or any — refugees from Muslim-majority countries under Trump presidency.   

2. The fate of DACA students and other unauthorized immigrants

Minnesota has one of the lowest undocumented populations in the country. New data from the Pew Research Center put the number of immigrants living in the state illegally at 100,000. In California, that number is more than 2 million; in Texas, it’s one and a half million; and in Florida, it’s nearly 800,000.   

There have been policies that protected some of these immigrants, though many of them have always faced uncertainty. Today, though, that uncertainty is much more pronounced under Trump, who has called for mass deportations and has promised to revoke the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a temporary immigration status that allows young undocumented immigrants with clean records to lawfully live and work in the county without fear of repatriation. Nobody knows what will happen to such programs under Trump presidency?  

3. The future of ‘sanctuary cities’

In Minnesota and across the nation, there are numerous so-called “sanctuary cities” with policies that limit collaboration between local police departments and federal law enforcement when it comes to immigration matters. In other words, these cities will not make arrests based on the immigration status of the residents.

Trump, however, threatens to “cancel all federal funding” to sanctuary cities if they choose to refuse to hand over undocumented immigrants who have committed crimes to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency, which is responsible for deportation of people who violate immigration laws.

Minneapolis has been a sanctuary city since 2003. If Trump succeeds in getting a law to withhold funding, it would have a real impact on Minneapolis residents: The city has used federal money to improve public safety, increase equity and provide resources for needy residents, among other things.

4. The Muslim database and immigration ban

Since Trump won the presidency last month, most minority groups in the U.S. have expressed concerns and uncertainly about their rights and freedoms under his administration. Among those are more than 150,000 Muslim-Americans in Minnesota.  

During his campaign, the President-elect called for “a complete and total shutdown of Muslims” entering the country. He also promised to register those already in the U.S. in a database. Muslims in Minnesota and their supporters wait to see what Trump will do come January.

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5. The three former refugees elected to state and local governments

This year, former refugees Ilhan Omar, Fue Lee and Susan Pha made their mark in state and local politics. Omar defeated Phyllis Kahn, who represents the Minneapolis House District 60B, to become the first Somali-American legislator in the nation. Lee, who will represent District 59A, became the first Hmong-American from Minneapolis to serve in the Minnesota House of Representative. Susan Pha, a businesses owner and an author from Laos, was elected the first person of color to serve on the Brooklyn Park city council.

Omar, Lee and Pha have joined a growing number of new American leaders who have been elected to state, city and school board seats in recent years. Will their presence in politics draw more attention to the economic, education and other disparities that underserved communities have faced for decades?