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Rally in the rain

Local residents and groups endured the weather conditions to protest tighter immigration laws

By Katie Petschke

The rain, wind and cold weather couldn′t stop a group of about 50 from rallying outside the federal courthouse in Minneapolis on Saturday, April 29, to call for tighter immigration policies.

Protesters stood on the corner of Fourth Street and Third Avenue, holding signs that read "America First and Forever," and proudly waved the American flag as passers-by honked and shouted their support from cars.

A tent-covered podium, displaying a "Minnesotans Seeking Immigration Reform" sign, helped shield the speakers from the rain. Meanwhile, the crowd held signs that read "Bye, Bye Livable Wage" and "Enforce our laws" and hovered under umbrellas to hear demands for firmer laws and more English, and fears of job loss.

"I speak up when I see dirty deeds being done," said one speaker from the John Birch Society. "They′re taking our jobs, and we have to do something about it."

Minnesotans Seeking Immigration Reform, a small Minnesota organization of about 150 members founded by Ruthie Hendrycks and her husband, Scott, headlined the rally. From her home in New Ulm, Minn., Hendrycks works to find other groups fighting for immigration reform. Members from a couple of these groups attended the rally also.

They included the Minuteman Project, a volunteer group that patrols U.S. borders and protests businesses that hire illegal workers, and the John Birch Society, an anti-communist group located in Appleton, Wis., founded in 1958.

"Citizenship is precious and not something to be taken for granted," said Stephen Eichler, the Minuteman Project executive director.

According to its Web site, the Minuteman Project is a "call to voices seeking a peaceful and respectable resolve to the chaotic neglect by members of our local, state and federal governments charged with applying U.S. immigration law."

Jeannette Stickney, a Fridley resident who heard about the rally from a friend, agreed that immigrants should only come to the United States legally.

"You work in this country, you speak English, you follow the rules just like everyone else," Stickney said.

Stickney believes that illegal immigration has hurt the U.S. economy and feels that something needs to be done to control it.

"I see people taking advantage of health care and other services that we offer," said Stickney. "You then see them having children here, and so now they are forced to stay and use up our services."

A handful of rally attendants disagreed, though they did not actively protest.

"Let′s remember past immigrant groups that have helped to build this country," said Lynn Tan, a South Minneapolis resident. "I have always found immigrant workers to be very hard working and honest."

Gov. Tim Pawlenty′s office has estimated that there are up to 85,000 illegal immigrants in Minnesota. This report said that illegal immigrants cost the public up to $188 million a year for public services such as education and health care. The report did not estimate economic contributions made by illegal immigrants, however.

White Americans are not the only population affected by immigration. According to the Rev. Jesse Peterson, who delivered the opening prayer for the rally, the black community in California is also losing out to illegal immigrants in schools, jobs and housing.

Saturday′s rally came two days before immigrants boycotted schools, businesses and work across the country to show the importance of immigrants in today′s economy and education.

According to Department of Commerce statistics, foreign-born workers represent 13 percent of all U.S. workers and 20 percent of all service workers. Over the past twenty years, immigration has contributed to more than 25 percent of the nation′s labor force growth.

Immigrants help the economy as well as the labor force. Immigrant households and businesses pay more than $162 billion in direct taxes to federal, state and local governments each year. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that immigrants will contribute nearly $500 billion to the Social Security system from 1998-2020 and will contribute nearly $2 trillion more through 2072.

Undocumented immigrants contribute at least $300 billion to the U.S. gross domestic product annually, which is a rough estimate because the number of undocumented workers in the U.S. and their economic contributions cannot ever be sure, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Lawmakers at the state and federal levels continue to debate whether to give illegal immigrants amnesty, tighten border security and increase penalties, or institute something like the old Bracero program, which was a sort of temporary work visa program for Mexican farm laborers from 1942 to 1964.

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