Oberloh speaks on immigration panel

WORTHINGTON -- Worthington Mayor Alan Oberloh participated Monday in a discussion panel about immigration hosted by the Minneapolis Foundation. "Embracing Immigration" focused on some of the issues the U.S. and Minnesota are facing regarding the ...

WORTHINGTON -- Worthington Mayor Alan Oberloh participated Monday in a discussion panel about immigration hosted by the Minneapolis Foundation.

"Embracing Immigration" focused on some of the issues the U.S. and Minnesota are facing regarding the issue.

Other panel members included Centro Legal executive director Gloria Contreras-Edin and Concordia University business professor Bruce Corrie. José Gonz?lez, program officer of the Bush Foundation, served as moderator.

"Our point of view is grass- roots," Oberloh stated after listening to statements from Contreras-Edin and Corrie. "There is something amiss with the (immigration) program as it stands."

Before the panel discussion began, Sandy Varges, president and CEO of the Minneapolis Foundation, said the purpose of the meeting was to have a balanced dialogue and bring up new facts.


"Whether we embrace or reject immigrants will define who we are as a people," she stated. "Coming up with solutions is not impossible together."

A brief movie was shown, with officials such as Oberloh, Worthington Public Safety Director Mike Cumiskey and Worthington Regional Hospital Administrator Mel Platt giving short statements.

Oberloh spoke of job openings at the Swift & Co. pork packing plant.

"We need people to come here," Oberloh said. "Pushing (the immigrants) underground is not helping."

Cumiskey talked of the great number of people from Latin America the police department deals with -- adding that identifying some of them can be a problem -- and Platt spoke of the rising number of debt write-off the hospital is dealing with. Also mentioned was the danger of having several people use the same identity when it comes to hospital records.

The first panelist to speak was Contreras-Edin, who said this past year has been especially challenging at Centro Legal.

"We had home raids in Willmar in April that were unlawful and unconstitutional," she said, adding that Centro Legal has helped file civil lawsuits against the Department of Homeland Security and ICE regarding those raids. "There were two reasons for filing that lawsuit: to raise awareness of the practices and policies that are inhumane and traumatizing ... and two, to highlight that practices by ICE are in contrast to the values of Minnesotans."

She referred to recent ICE enforcement in Willmar and at six Swift plants as harmful and said there are an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. and 90,000 in Minnesota.


"(Secretary of Homeland Security Michael) Chertoff says these raids will continue," she said. "Our economy can't take another hit."

Corrie said there were two flaws in the immigration debate -- a very narrow definition of economic contribution and the dysfunctional immigration policy.

Oberloh said that since the Swift raid in December 2006, the number of job openings at the plant has increased, and job turnover is high.

"Not all Hispanics work at the packing house," he explained. "We have 30 minority-owned businesses in Worthington, and 22 of them are owned by Hispanics. They are entrepreneurs."

The raid one year ago, he explained, mostly netted single males, but the school district did lose 13 students. Within four months, he added, the school had gained many more students.

He talked about the two congressmen who visited Worthington more than a year ago who were "pushing hard to take 12 million people out of the economy."

"If they try this, it will turn this country upside down," Oberloh stated.

Panelists were asked what they thought the obstacles were to creating a new immigration policy.


Contreras-Edin said immigration is viewed as a "hot issue," something she blamed on the media, but she doesn't believe it is.

"It is a practical issue," she explained. "Comprehensive immigration policies need to be thought about. We need to come up with something that isn't so polarized, but we are not ready to come to a workable middle."

Oberloh said bipartisan agreement will be needed to reform the system.

"I've never been an advocate of building a fence," he stated, adding that the money spent on the border fence could be better used for comprehensive reform. "We need to get people out of the shadows."

When asked what barriers are in place, Gonzalez cited the inability to resolve perceptions and inability to agree. Contreras-Edin said the federal government has always known the illegal immigrants were here and that the IRS had been giving out ITIN numbers so they could pay taxes for 35 years.

"The leaders have known for a long time," she stated. "You all have just been informed."

Contreras-Edin added that before 1972, there were not undocumented workers.

From the audience viewing the discussion, a man stood up and spoke about the term "illegal."


"It hurts me in my heart," he said. "It is insensitive and inhumane. We are not talking about animals."

He said immigrants are treated as second-class citizens and given no opportunity to succeed.

When asked what action step each panel member would like to see, Contreras-Edin said it was most important for people to educate themselves on current policies in place that could have consequences to themselves or their businesses, then asked anyone with questions to call her.

Oberloh put out a call to action, asking people to contact leaders and let them know the system is broken.

"Forget partisan policies and get something done," he stated.

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