Standing Up for Minnesota Immigrants


“Go back where you came from!” 

The racist taunt, now made part of a national debate by Trump’s attack on four Congresswomen sounds painfully familiar to immigrants, people of color, and Native Americans in Minnesota. Trump targeted people who were native-born U.S. citizens as well as a naturalized citizen. What they had in common was their adamant opposition to his policies—and that they are women of color.

 In a powerful report on MPR, Ibrahim Hirsi traces the centuries-old historical roots of the taunt, and gives space for Minnesotans to tell their stories in their own words. Whether heard at age 7, 11, 13, or as an adult: the words still wound. Dawn Bjoraker told about her grocery store encounter in the St. Paul area: 

“He then went off on a profanity-ridden tirade and told me, “You should go back to your country you [expletive] foreigner. If you stayed in your country, we wouldn’t be going through this.” While this was taking place, a couple of more people came into the aisle. Not one spoke up in defense of me. My daughter was scared, and I did everything I could to get away from him. He followed me with his shopping cart and continued his tirade until I exited the aisle. I paid for my items, got into my car and lost it. With tears streaming down my face, my daughter put her hand on my lap and said, “He doesn’t know any better, mom.”

“Here’s the thing, though: I am nothing but indigenous to this land. I am an American Indian, a Sicangu Lakota from the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota. I was attacked based on appearances alone. This needs to stop. Telling people to love it or leave it, or verbally and/or physically attack them based on appearances is not what we are about. It is in our differences we bear our commonality. Speak up.”

Mohammad Zafar, a former U.S. Marine who was born in Pakistan, has heard it many times. 

“But when the president of the United States says that, Zafar said, it’s more dangerous.

“At the end of the day, it does cause fear and it does cause trauma,” he said. “He’s on a world stage and, unfortunately, he’s doing that.”

Sunday’s “go back where you came from” tweets followed weeks of Twitter threats against immigrants. Last weekend was officially announced as the kick-off for massive arrests— which did not succeed, at least in part because of mobilization of immigrant communities to know and assert their rights

Fear Remains

Across Minnesota, reports of ICE presence and actions continued to circulate and spark fear through the week. Many reports proved to be rumors, but ICE continued regular enforcement actions. Those actions included a widely publicized arrest in south Minneapolis, In which agents broke the back window of a car to gain access and drag out the immigrant they had targeted for detention. 

Can they do that? While ICE warrants are not judicial warrants and do not authorize agents to enter a home without permission, cars are different.  “If they encounter you anywhere else outside your home, then it becomes a lot more fuzzy about what happens,” Linus Chan, associate professor of clinical law at the University of Minnesota and Director of the Detainee Rights Clinic told KARE 11

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey responded to community anger and concern on Facebook on the same day: 

“My office and the Minneapolis Police Department learned of this incident the same way many of you did – through social media. That’s because there is no requirement for federal agencies to contact the jurisdictions in which they operate. 

“I can confirm that the MPD were not present nor were they contacted regarding the event. 

“Chief Arradondo and I have – and will again – reaffirm our commitment to standing with our immigrant communities. Know that MPD have not and will not cooperate with any such activity and are prohibited from taking action to detect or apprehend based solely on immigration status.”

Norma Garces, executive director at El Colegio charter school, described to PRI the level of fear that follows their students, and some of the measures the school takes to help them be, if not safe, at least prepared.

“We have a form, like a checklist. They put in all their documents ready in a box, so that the kids know where the passports are. This is where your birth certificates are, this is your vaccinations, this is your bank account, this is who’s responsible for the bank accounts. I’m in a high school, so a lot of the kids may be responsible for their siblings if their parents would be picked up.”

Standing Up for Immigrants in Minnesota

Dozens of “Lights for Liberty” vigils were organized across Minnesota last Friday night, protesting both horrendous conditions in detention centers on the southern border and officially threatened immigration raids, which ended up fizzling out across the country. In the Twin Cities, protesters gathered at the Henry Whipple Federal Building near Fort Snelling, the site of the regional immigration court.Among other Minnesota vigils: Albert Lea, St. Peter/Mankato, and Rochester

Rochester police said they do not and will not take part in immigration raids, saying, “Our role is simple: it’s public safety. It’s policing of all residents of our community, all those who live here, regardless of immigration status.” (Of course, that does not apply to the country sheriff’s department.)

St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter, speaking a few days later as news of funding for the St. Paul/Ramsey County immigrant defense program was announced,m said: 

“At a time when federal authorities are creating fear and apprehension amongst our residents, and discouraging the exercise of due process rights of immigrants, it is incumbent on local governments to address that fear and apprehension with support and resources to residents who are fighting to keep their families together and safe.” 

A Few Things You Can Do

In Minnesota, immigration detainees are held in county jails in Sherburne, Nobles, Freeborn, Carver, and Kandiyohi counties. They may have been detained in Minnesota or they may have been shipped from the border. (To learn more about how the immigration courts work, see this MinnPost article.)

 A vigil is held at the Henry Whipple Federal Building near Fort Snelling every Tuesday morning at 7:30-8:30 a.m. as vans bring detained immigrants to immigration court for hearings. 

The Advocates for Human Rights trains immigration court observers

“The Human Rights Defender Project Court Observers help bring transparency and accountability to this system. Court Observers attend hearings and report on issues of concern including access to counsel, family and community support, and interpretation; the manner of arrest; and the ability of individuals to raise defenses to deportation.”

Want more ideas? Check out Eight Things You Can Do to Support Immigrants and Refugees.

About Mary Turck

News Day, written by Mary Turck, analyzes, summarizes, links to, and comments on reports from news media around the world, with particular attention to immigration, education, and journalism. Fragments, also written by Mary Turck, has fiction, poetry and some creative non-fiction. Mary Turck edited TC Daily Planet,, from 2007-2014, and edited the award-winning Connection to the Americas and AMERICAS.ORG, in its pre-2008 version. She is also a recovering attorney and the author of many books for young people (and a few for adults), mostly focusing on historical and social issues.
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