Minnesotans Weigh in on Immigration Reform

Updated: 01/30/2013 7:46 AM KSTP.com By: Steve Tellier

Everything from food services to farming to state finances could be impacted by potential immigration reforms. Now everyone, including the governor, is weighing in on it.

"It's one of those things that people don't like but the status quo is even worse," said Gov. Mark Dayton.

So comprehensive immigration reform has at least one supporter in Minnesota, and he's a pretty important one.

"It has to be a national solution," Dayton said.

Dayton had just finished speaking with the Minnesota Farmers Union, a group keenly aware of the impact national reform could have on our local economy.

"I'll tell you from personal experience. There's some jobs that people like us won't do, and they will do it," said Peter Ripka, a Minnesota dairy farmer who was at Tuesday's discussion with the governor.

Ripka said a path to citizenship for Minnesota's estimated 85,000 illegal immigrants would mean a path to prosperity for farmers like him.

"It would help the Minnesota economy, and you wouldn't have all the illegals, and you'd have these people paying taxes just like everybody else," Ripka said.

Other business people agree. Voices from the food, farming and recreation communities, as well as the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, have joined together to form The Minnesota Business Immigration Coalition, a collection of local employers pushing for reform.

"Hopefully, now is the time," said John Keller, the executive director of the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota (ILCM).

The ILCM is a nonprofit that provides free legal services to immigrants. Keller said many of the calls that come into his office are answered like this: "Unless the law changes, there's nothing we can do for you."

If nothing else, reform would make Keller a whole lot busier.

"We are thrilled at the possibility of being extremely busy with this group," Keller said.

Keller also said reform would be a net positive for everyone in Minnesota. But not everyone agrees with him.

Phil Krinkie, president of the Taxpayers League of Minnesota, said small businesses could be hit with a heavier burden in terms of trying to verify which workers are here legally and which aren't.

Many others make the argument that reform simply sends the wrong message by letting people who came here illegally off the hook.