Hamline News

Taking the Lead to Address the Immigration Crisis


On June 29th, over 200 community members from across the metro area came to the Klas Center to listen and talk to experts invited by the Center for Justice and Law about the status of U.S. immigration law and what is happening in detention centers around the country.

“The current approach to people trying to immigrate to this country is a moral and a social justice issue, which makes it a perfect discussion and action topic for the center,” said Jillian Peterson, the newly appointed director of the Center for Justice and Law.

Ian Bratlie an ACLU staff attorney on the Greater Minnesota Racial Justice Project briefed the crowd on the legal landscape, enforcement efforts, and the work that his organization is doing on behalf of immigrants.

Kevin Heinz (JD ‘12) and Founder of Heinz Law, a practice devoted to immigration and small business, discussed his clients’ experiences.

John Keller, the Executive Director of the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota and Michele Garnett McKenzie, the Deputy Director of Advocates for Human Rights, told stories of immigrants who were in dire circumstances and subject to harsh conditions. Both noted that immigrants, particularly young adults, were treated poorly in detention before the “zero tolerance” policy, which resulted in family separations, took effect.

Juan Perez Isiordia shared his story of immigrating with his mother. She was fleeing an abusive relationship and sought safety in the United States. He lives in Minnesota now with his wife and child. The uncertainty around the status of adults who came here as children with their parents has impacted his ability to work.

After panelists spoke, audience members asked the panelists questions. Many wanted to learn more about the conditions in which young people and children are detained. One man asked if the children are receiving schooling, which they were not. Another person asked if any of the children separated from their families since May were in Minnesota. Ms. McKenzie said that they were not.

At the conclusion of the event, attendees wrote down what action steps they plan to take to ameliorate the immigration crisis. Peterson compiled the results.

She found that the event mobilized a number of people. Notably, 23 people committed to read federal decision ‘Ms. L v. ICE’ to become more knowledgeable about immigration law. Additionally, 23 people committed to volunteer with the ACLU, the Advocates for Human Rights, the Immigration Law Center of Minnesota, or another advocacy organization. Also, 32 people committed to attend the June 30 Keep Families Together March. That event drew over 7,000 people.

Other planned actions included researching candidates running for sheriff and asking county candidates specifically about immigration, donating to an immigrants rights organization, and joining the ACLU.

Two weeks after attendees made the pledges to act, Peterson emailed everyone a survey. Of those who responded, 90% indicated that they had completed their action step.

See the Center for Justice and Law website for more information.