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As policies shift, more immigrants and refugees in Minnesota turn to congressional offices for help

Jamie Long

Many of President Donald Trump’s moves since taking office could be characterized by upheaval and unpredictability, but at least one set of policies has resulted in an entirely unsurprising outcome: Members of Minnesota’s Congressional delegation who represent the Twin Cities area have seen a substantial increase in the stream of constituents seeking help with immigration cases.

“We have experienced a noticeable increase in … more complex cases involving prolonged detention, deportations of long-term U.S. residents with U.S. citizen families [and] delayed applications,” Jamie Long, Rep. Keith Ellison’s deputy chief of staff, said in an email.

During the first three months of 2016, for instance, Ellison’s Minneapolis office received 24 immigration-related requests from constituents. Over the same period this year, the number grew to 60. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith likewise have seen an increase in the number of immigrants and refugees searching for answers regarding many of the policies implemented by the Trump administration, though both offices were unable to provide specific numbers.  

For constituents with questions or concerns about immigration cases, congressional offices offer a range of services, include expediting pending applications and securing appointments with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the federal agency that handles immigration-related issues.

When permanent residents who aren’t yet U.S. citizen need to temporarily leave the country, for example, congressional offices can help speed the process of getting the required documents. “We can help facilitate expedited processing for the necessary travel documents,” said Ben Hill, Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s state director. “[This] technically takes weeks and we do it over the course of a day to get the things they need so that there’s no fear about gaining entry back into the country.”

The congressional offices started seeing the uptick in January 2017, immediately after the administration rolled out an executive order barring of travelers from seven predominantly Muslim countries, an action that ignited confusion and fear among thousands refugees and immigrants in Minnesota.

The travel ban was followed by the rescission of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — or DACA — program, which protects from deportation certain undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as minors. And all of that is on top of the regular constituent services congressional offices provide for people who need to learn more about the status of their family members waiting to arrive in the U.S.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar
klobuchar.senate.govSen. Amy Klobuchar

Constituent service offices also assist people in opening lines of communication with federal agencies when needed. That becomes particularly important when the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency detains someone. In many cases, ICE might not immediately share with the family the exact whereabouts of the detainee. If this happens, said Hill, Klobuchar’s office will work with the family or an attorney to help facilitate a conversation with the agency.

When they aren’t dealing with such serious cases, congressional offices also help their constituents to understand the shifting deadlines of immigration applications as well as update them about the ongoing immigration debate in Washington and what potential changes might mean for them and their families.

Marc Kimball, Smith’s state communications director, said Smith wants people to understand that’s what she and her office is there for: to help them when dealing with the federal government. “Immigration is one of those issues that we hear a lot about,” he said.

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