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Officials await action on false documentation

WORTHINGTON -- On immigration issues, all roads lead to Worthington.

Or so it seems.

Worthington Mayor Alan Oberloh visited Tuesday with New York correspondents representing Norway's largest newspaper, who arrived in town with questions about the community's particular immigration and minority issues. This occurred after Oberloh visited at length last week with a Storm Lake, Iowa, newspaper editor who said his community faces the same challenging issues now facing Worthington.

Earlier this month, Worthington was the subject of a prominent article in USA Today, and last week, public television's "News Hour with Jim Lehrer" broadcast interviews with Worthington leaders on the topic of immigration.

Since Oberloh and other community leaders captured the attention of Gov. Tim Pawlenty regarding the problem of illegal identities, interest in Worthington's minority issues has exploded far and wide.

"We weren't looking for any fame or glory when we first brought this to the attention of state officials," Oberloh said Wednesday, adding that the city's message hasn't changed. "We are consistent in what we say -- what our concerns are and what our solutions are."

Sgt. Kevin Flynn of the Worthington Police Department agreed that Worthington is gaining attention because Worthington is speaking honestly.

"Our community is just one of few communities that's willing to stand up and say, 'This is what's happening, is anybody else having these concerns?'" Flynn said.

Oberloh, Flynn and Director of Public Safety Mike Cumiskey said Worthington's particular concerns still await action on national and state levels, despite the fact that immigration issues are being debated daily. What really concerns Worthington, they said, is the continued proliferation of false documentation, which makes law enforcement much more difficult.

It is already a federal crime to sell illegal documentation, Cumiskey stated. But prosecution of the crime in Minnesota is a low priority.

"We want to make it a crime in Minnesota to do this, so then (lawbreakers) would be doing local time or state time," Cumiskey said. "It would slow down that revolving door."

Cumiskey and Flynn also want it to be considered "criminal re-entry" when persons expelled from the state decide to return. They also want Minnesota to fashion its own law against the sale of false identification and make it a crime to possess three or more false documents.

The hangup in St. Paul, they said, is that some lawmakers believe anti-document fraud legislation would lead to unintended consequences -- endangering college students using fake IDs to buy drinks or get into clubs. Worthington's leaders dismiss those concerns, saying that the new statute can be written in precise language.

City leaders have carefully explained their illegal documentation concerns to Pawlenty, U.S. Senator Mark Dayton, local state politicians and others. But they await action as the nation debates the merits of amnesty programs, guest-worker programs, border controls and the expulsion of illegals.

Cumiskey said it is not the business of local police departments to do the jobs of immigration officials, nor should it be. But he is in favor of a mixture of border controls as well as gues- worker programs to allow current illegal immigrants the opportunity to eventually become legal.

Oberloh agreed, saying that state laws to address false documentation will help solve other issues as well.

"If that ever came to fruition, it makes the guest worker program work even better," he said. "The people that are here working and bettering themselves, if we can identify them, they no longer have to be second-class citizens."

Doug Wolter

Doug Wolter is the Daily Globe sports editor. He served as sports reporter, then sports editor, news editor and finally managing editor at the Daily Globe for 22 years before leaving for seven years to work as night news editor at the Mankato Free Press in Mankato. Doug now lives in Worthington with his wife, Sandy. They have three children and seven grandchildren. Doug, retired after a lengthy career in fast-pitch softball, enjoys reading, strumming his acoustic guitar and hanging around his grandchildren. He also writes books on fiction. Two of his stories, "The Genuine One" and "The Old Man in Section 129" have been distributed through a national publisher.

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