Pawlenty targets illegal immigration

Pawlenty with forgeries
Gov. Tim Pawlenty held several forged driver's licenses during a news conference Monday, when he announced a series of steps to curb illegal immigration.
MPR Photo/Tom Scheck

The governor issued an order that takes several steps to deal with illegal immigration without legislative agreement.

It requires state law enforcement officers to work with federal agents to enforce immigration laws. It instructs the Department of Public Safety to review photos on the state's driver's license database for possible fraud. And it requires any new state employees and contractors who do business with the state to verify citizenship through an Internet-based system operated by the federal government.

Pawlenty said the steps are necessary to respond to illegal immigration.

"If you have a country that's based on the rule of law and the rule of law gets knowingly cast aside and we allow illegal behavior to continue then the rule of law is diminished and one of the cornerstones of our country gets eroded in a pretty pronounced way," he said.

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The governor is also calling on the Legislature to pass a bill that strengthens the state's human trafficking laws, increases fines for businesses that knowingly hire illegal immigrants and increases penalties for identity theft.

Pawlenty also wants to prohibit cities, like Minneapolis and St. Paul, from forbidding their police officers from asking about a person's immigration status. Several cities say they passed the ordinances because they want immigrants to feel comfortable talking with the police.

"These are warmed-over proposals that could not pass the House of Representatives when his party controlled the house."

It's been nearly two years since the governor initially proposed many parts of this plan. He said he retooled the package with the hope that it will pass this time.

"These are the types of steps we believe that Republicans, Democrats and a broad cross section of Minnesotans can agree are reasonable steps towards better enforcement of illegal immigration and our country and our state need that," he said.

Pawlenty made those comments in front of his commissioners, a group of Republican lawmakers, several law enforcement officials and one known Republican businessman. After the news conference, Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, said Pawlenty's plan has little chance of becoming law.

"These are warmed-over proposals that could not pass the House of Representatives when his party controlled the house," he said.

Other lawmakers said illegal immigration should be handled by federal officials. They say the state should focus on other issues like education, transportation and health care. Some questioned the timing of Pawlenty's announcement. It's an election year and Minnesota's precinct caucuses are less than a month away.

Immigration attorney Susana De Leon of Minneapolis opposes Pawlenty's immigration reform plans.
MPR Photo/Tom Scheck

Susana De Leon, an immigration attorney from Minneapolis said Pawlenty's proposal is pure politics.

"Gov. Pawlenty is a rising star," she said. "He was a considered maybe to be a candidate for vice president. I don't know. But in any election time, immigrants, gay and lesbian rights and abortion are going to be key issues for the Republican Party to pull out their voters."

De Leon also said some of Pawlenty's proposals are already being followed. She said state and federal law enforcement officials are already working together to crack down on human trafficking, violent international gangs and sexual predators.

Lawmakers will consider whether to hold hearings on the governor's plan when they return for the 2008 legislative session on Feb. 12.