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Advocates Archive: Moving from Exclusion to Belonging: Immigrant Rights in Minnesota Today (2014)

August 9, 2023

In 2014, The Advocates for Human Rights' released a groundbreaking report centered on the human rights of refugees and immigrants in Minnesota. The report placed its findings and recommendations within the context of state, federal, and international human rights law to identify what was working to promote integration and success, what was failing, and what gaps exist in public policy. The report drew on nearly 200 individual interviews and more than 25 community conversations involving hundreds of people throughout the state.

The following article from our 2014 Spring Observer details the key findings from the report.

Moving from Exclusion to Belonging: Key Findings

When it comes to Minnesota’s immigrants and refugees, “Minnesota Nice” doesn’t come close to providing the most basic protections of human rights, according to Moving from Exclusion to Belonging: Immigrant Rights in  Minnesota Today, a groundbreaking report released in April by The Advocates for Human Rights. While Moving from Exclusion to Belonging focuses on Minnesota, it can be used as a model throughout the United States.

In addition to delving into the challenges and abuses of immigrants and refugees, Moving from Exclusion to Belonging identifies what is working to promote integration and success, what is failing, and what gaps exist in public policy. The report sets forth recommendations for  policymakers and others.

Often, discussion about immigration focuses judgment on the actions of immigrants—whether they follow increasingly complicated immigration rules, their adeptness at adjusting to life in the U.S., and their willingness to meet the broader community’s expectations of behavior and appearance.

The report turns the conversation on its head and examines the actions of Minnesota’s government, civic institutions, and long-term residents, focusing on how well they fulfill their responsibilities toward immigrants.While welcoming gestures can help ease transitions and build friendships, “welcome” by itself—without upholding fundamental human rights—ultimately leaves some Minnesotans excluded from the most basic protections needed to ensure that every person lives with dignity.

Immigrants and refugees with legal status often remain ineligible for public safety net programs, and they face difficulty establishing new lives in Minnesota due to lack of credit history, recognized credentials, or  social and professional networks. Parents and  teachers struggle to communicate, while schools tackle the challenge of educating a student population that speaks more than 230 languages, according to the Minnesota  Department of Education.

Federal immigration policies and programs leave immigrants vulnerable to due process violations and racial profiling by local law enforcement. The report points to Minnesota law, which does not allow driver’s licenses for those who cannot prove their lawful presence in the U.S., creating a whole host of challenges for people and communities.

Yet another example is a Minnesota law enacted in 2005 that makes labor trafficking a criminal offense. The law re-mains unused—despite reports that continue to surface of exploitation of undocumented workers, including wage theft, false imprisonment, assault, and trafficking.

Two years in the making, the report draws on more than 200 interviews and 25 community forums held through out Minnesota. The Blandin Foundation, The Minneapolis Foundation, and the Andrus Family Fund provided support
for the project.

Moving from Exclusion to Belonging: Immigrant Rights in Minnesota Today reports that while Minnesota is welcoming, the welcome does not extend very far. Newcomers face discrimination and exclusion from social networks, and by extension, exclusion from the economic opportunities and political power such networks bring.

Immigrants and refugees report barriers to belonging that result from discrimination, social distance, exclusion from the greater community, and fear. These barriers lead to  human rights violations that impact safety and security and that undermine immigrants’ abilities to earn a living and to meet their basic rights.
Failure to protect fundamental human rights undermines Minnesota values and squanders the rich resources that Minnesota’s newcomers bring. Public policy must guarantee that all people who live in Minnesota, regardless of where they were born or their immigration status, enjoy the  fundamental human rights that allow them to live with dignity.

Public Safety
Immigrants’ ability to enjoy safety and security suffers  because of fear and mistrust of law enforcement and cooperation by law enforcement with federal immigration authorities.

Access to Justice
Immigrants and refugees in Minnesota face serious  barriers to accessing justice that are compounded by lack of immigration status, language barriers, and lack of  familiarity with the U.S. legal system.

Economic Opportunity
While many individual immigrants reported enjoying economic opportunity, other immigrants and refugees reported barriers to employment, exploitation by employers who prey on fear of deportation or job loss, and discrimination based on race, religion, and national origin.

While Minnesota has seen overall improvements in  academic outcomes, persisting disparities highlight  inequities within the system. Interviewees pointed to  poverty and segregation as underlying causes. They also pointed to the need for policy changes to reduce  bullying, as well as to the need to mitigate the negative  effects of school discipline policies on immigrant and refugee  students, to improve children’s readiness for school, to  better prepare staff to work with immigrant students, to increase funding and staffing levels, and to increase hiring and retention of staff of color. Participants also identified the need for greater attention and resources for English learner services.

Immigrants struggle to find safe and well-maintained  housing, a problem fueled by a shortage of affordable housing, restrictions on public benefits, immigration status, exploitation by landlords, and outright discrimination in renting and buying. The systems meant to protect people from exploitative and discriminatory landlords, realtors, and mortgage lenders are not working for immigrants.

Basic Needs
The United States makes scant public benefit provisions for refugees. Asylum seekers receive no support upon their arrival in the United States and face a waiting period for work authorization after applying for asylum.  

Civic Engagement
Active religious discrimination prevents Muslim immigrants from fully enjoying their rights. Civic engagement by  refugees and immigrants is strongest within ethnically-based organizations and weakest when it comes to holding decision-making power in government or as leaders of large organizations that serve the broader community. English language classes and volunteering provide  connection to the larger community.

Immigrants and refugees face long waits for application processing, difficulties communicating with immigration officials, and discrimination based on religion and county of origin.

The Advocates is celebrating 40 years of defending human rights. Throughout this year, we are sharing stories and projects from our archives to shed light on the history of the organization, and the issues we work on.