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Immigration progresses slowly in St. Paul

WORTHINGTON -- Be prepared to wait a little longer before lawmakers in St. Paul get down to serious business with immigration issues.

"To be honest with you, we've been focusing on the bonding bill and eminent domain," said District 22A Rep. Doug Magnus, R-Slayton, on Monday.

"The state will tell you we're waiting to see what the federal government will do," said District 22 Sen. Jim Vickerman, DFL-Tracy. "It's not going to happen in two months, I'll tell you that."

On Sunday, a crowd estimated at 30,000 marched in St. Paul for immigrants' rights -- many of whom bused in from Worthington. But Magnus, who said state legislators are still waiting to get their cue from Washington, said Sunday's march won't go particularly far in helping make up state lawmakers' minds.

"I don't sense that it's had a lot of effect on us up here either way," Magnus said of the St. Paul rally. "I think it's important for the people who are marching to know that our country has been around for 200 years. ... We should be respectful of our country. We're not jumping onto boats to go somewhere else."

Vickerman would like to help immigrants become respected citizens.

"I'll tell you what -- we need those workers in Worthington," Vickerman said. "I told them I wanted to be their senator, and I'll help them any way I can. I want them to build a home here, and I want them to raise a family here, but I want them to obey the laws like we all have to."

Vickerman noted that some Americans want to build a wall on the southern border to prevent Mexicans from streaming into America illegally.

"They're going to spend more money doing that -- that they should spend on helping them get to be citizens," he said.

"Ninety percent (of illegal immigrants) are perfect citizens. And 10 percent are troublemakers. Let's deal with the 10 percent who are troublemakers and leave the rest of them alone," Vickerman added.

City leaders and law enforcement personnel in Worthington, where a large population of immigrants live and work, have been lobbying state leaders to pass laws to help manage the growing problem of false documentation. Magnus pointed out Monday that the House recently passed a bill stating local governments cannot restrict an official government unit from checking on the immigration status of individuals. But he also acknowledged that the Senate hasn't taken up the bill yet, and that more needs to be done to address documentation concerns.

A recent report by the state Office of Strategic Planning and Results Management to Gov. Tim Pawlenty stated that illegal immigration costs Minnesota $180 million per year.

Are state legislators, as a whole, willing to seriously consider false documentation issues soon?

"I really have got some doubts on it, to be honest about it," Magnus said. "It's something we need to have more discussions on. I know the government has proposed tougher standards on employers. I'm not sure I'm in agreement with that. ... I'm sensitive to our areas. And a lot of our employers are doing what they can. And they're handcuffed with federal enforcement rules."

Magnus said he's in favor of more work visas -- but that's a federal issue, and immigration reforms at the federal level appear to be tied up in political wrangling.

"A lot of people have been waiting to see what the federals are going to do," Magnus said. "And if they're not going to do anything about it, we've got to start thinking about what we're going to do. I was hoping that the federal government would be doing something, so we would have uniformity in the state laws."

Vickerman said he believes Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate can agree on immigration legislation before the current session ends -- perhaps they can pass something that can be attached to national legislation.

"This is not a political issue," he said. "This is an issue for all of us."

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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