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Senators seek movement on state's immigration issues

By Tom Larson

Sun Tribune

Minnesota needs to get tougher on illegal immigration, and the tools to do it are within reach, a Minnesota state senator said.

Sen. Joe Gimse, a Republican from Willmar, was in Morris Thursday to address immigration issues and discuss the results of forums he and District 11 Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, a Republican from Alexandria, held last fall.

Ingebrigtsen's vehicle was the victim of a hit-and-run accident in Willmar during the first leg of Thursday's tour of West Central Minnesota and he was unable to make the Morris stop. He joined Gimse at the other tour stops in Alexandria, Long Prairie and Sauk Centre.

Immigration has been a growing issue in the area for several years, Gimse said, and recent Immigration and Customs Enforcement actions in Willmar and Worthington led Gimse and Ingebrigtsen to schedule six forums on immigration issues.

The forums -- three in Willmar and three in Long Prairie -- were focused primarily on law enforcement, gang and drug task force activity, health and human services issues and comments from major employers who use immigrant labor, he said.

Law enforcement was an overriding concern since local governments have little control over border security and immigrant status, Gimse said.

"The goal," Gimse said, "was to get a perspective on what's going on in communities regarding immigration and illegal immigration -- what obstacles they face."

Fraud because of identification difficulties, and gang and drug activity were problems cited often during the forums, Gimse said. He added that he's on board with many of the immigration recommendations offered by Gov. Tim Pawlenty earlier this month (See accompanying story).

Gimse would like to see collaboration with the governor's office for legislative reforms, fraud reduction, measures to enhance public safety, and to eliminate "santuary cities," examples of which Gimse said were Minneapolis, St. Paul and Worthington. Such cities don't encourage law enforcement against illegal immigration, he said.

"Some people have a high sense of compassion, who think if they ignore (a problem) it will go away," Gimse said. "But it's not happening. It's not happening anywhere in the country."

Gimse said he and his supporters want to tighten the documentation needed for drivers licenses, state I.D. cards and for health and human services programs. That includes using highly technical methods, such as optical scans and the use by employers of E-Verify, an online governmental service intended to aid businesses trying to avoid hiring undocumented aliens.

"(Businesses) want good, qualified help, and they don't want to break the law, but the documents they receive are so sophisticated the average person can't tell," Gimse said. "You have to be a professional to tell the difference in some of these documents."

Problems regarding illegal immigration need attention before they grow worse, both in terms of current situations and harming future relations as the population diversifies.

"The people of the State of Minnesota are compassionate, caring and giving," Gimse said. "But they don't want to be taken advantage of."