ST. PAUL — More than 1,000 miles from the United States-Mexico border, Minnesota lawmakers and immigration attorneys on Friday, June 28, asked what Minnesotans could do to affect an ongoing humanitarian migrant crisis.
The hearing comes days after the publication of a shocking photo depicting the bodies of a Salvadoran man and his young daughter who drowned in the waters of the Rio Grande attempting to cross to the United States in search of asylum. And it follows reports of inhumane conditions at the detention facilities which housed migrant children.
Spurred to action by separate reports that raids of undocumented immigrants in Minnesota could be imminent, Democratic-Farmer-Labor lawmakers said they felt a need to meet with immigration attorneys and advocates to get a better sense of the landscape at the U.S. border and beyond.
"I don't know what the next steps are but I know that it's not sitting back and pretending this isn't happening," said Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn, the Roseville Democrat and member of the legislative People of Color and Indigenous caucus who called the meeting.
Becker-Finn said she'd heard from members of her community who were frustrated and saddened by the deplorable conditions reported at the detention centers and weren't sure what they could do to help. And, if nothing else, she said she hoped the hearing would help provide information about the situation, which Minnesotans could use rather than skimming reports on social media.
"This idea that we as Minnesotans don't have to care or there's nothing we can do so let's just ignore it, I don't think is an appropriate or acceptable response," Becker-Finn said. “We are all human and I hope that we would care about people even if they are a couple hundred miles away."
Missing Migrants, a group that tracks the deaths of migrant refugees and asylum-seekers, reported that 175 fatalities have been reported at the U.S.-Mexico border in 2019. Thirteen children were among those reported fatalities.
A surge of migrants at the southern border paired with policies that require migrants to wait in Mexico for extended periods of time before they can enter the United States to request asylum have motivated some migrants to cross the border illegally between ports of entry. And that has proven to be a perilous journey for many.
Record numbers of unaccompanied minors and migrant families have also overwhelmed border facilities, many of which were set up to house adults for brief periods of time.
"I don't know what to do about it," Sen. Melisa Franzen, DFL-Edina, said, "but I'm glad we're calling it out because if there's one thing we can do is call out injustice and this is what it is."
No policy was drafted and no action was taken at Friday's hearing, but lawmakers said they felt a need to learn more about the situation and to provide additional information to Minnesotans.
Republican lawmakers, meanwhile, said they weren't notified about the hearing and raised questions about its architects' intentions.
“Democrats are not serious about solving the humanitarian crisis at our border as evidenced by the fact that they did not invite a single House Republican to today’s informational hearing — making clear that they aren’t interested in discussing actual solutions to this crisis," Rep. Nick Zerwas, R-Elk River, said in a statement.
Immigration attorneys, some of whom visited shelters and detention centers at the U.S.-Mexico border, explained federal asylum laws and described what they'd witnessed at the border. And they laid out potential paths for lawmakers to block U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids in courthouses or to prioritize legal representation for immigrant children in Minnesota.
Advocates for undocumented people living in the state said they were also concerned about President Donald Trump's recent tweet indicating that ICE officers will begin apprehending immigrants who entered the country illegally. Trump later said he would delay the proposed removals to give Congress a chance to write and approve a package that would resolve some of the problems at the border.
“People are scrambling for that information to keep themselves safe," Daniel Perez, who'd lived for years in Minnesota as an undocumented immigrant, said. “Their fear and panic disrupt anything and everything."
Perez works as a social worker in Minneapolis and said students with undocumented family members have broken down in sobs on the days their parents or other family members attend hearings about their immigration status.