Community Conversations about Protecting our Refugee, Immigrant, & Muslim Neighbors

Jordan Bissell

Duluth, MN - On Monday, March 6, members of the community joined to discuss the current issues and dangers affecting immigrant, refugee, and Muslim members of our community. Duluth City Councilors Joel Sipress and Em Westerlund were among speakers, accompanied by Jaylani Hussein, the Executive Director of the Minneapolis Council on American Islamic Relations; John C. Kellor, the Executive Director of the Immigration Law Center of Minnesota; Alondra Cano, Minneapolis City Councilor; and Susana Pelayo-Woodward, the Director of UMD Office of Cultural Diversity.

Many aspects were taken into account and discussed in the meeting Monday, including: recent move on Immigration related legislation, presidential power in the field of immigration, concerns for future administration’s actions, concern for residents who may not have achieved full citizenship yet, what Sanctuary Cities entail, the State and Federal funding risks of Sanctuary City protections, racism related to refugees, immigrants, and muslims, and what advocacy for these community members may look like.

It is no secret that President Trump has made claims to take extreme measures on immigration control, refusing refugees, and deportation. The President has also taken stances against Islam, at times even endorsing temporary bans on Muslims entering the United States, as well as proposing a “watch list” for Muslims already residing in the country. Trump has also in the last week, signed a travel ban barring citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S. for ninety days. 

The First Amendment, as adopted in 1791 reads:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

In other words, what we know to be, the right to religious freedom in America.

To many, Trump’s stances on these issues seem to conflict with the First Amendment, or at least greatly suggest he may allow religious prejudice to affect his governance. For example, his tendency to group all Muslims as “radical Islamic Terrorists”. As one would hope history had taught us by now, vilifying an entire religion or race, based on the actions of few, tend to lend itself to the cultivation of racism and prejudice, which seems like something that should have no home in “the melting pot” in 2017. 

Trump has also lashed out against Mexico and Mexican immigrants many times in his campaign, and early Presidency thus far. As many Americans are probably familiar with in the “build a wall” aspect of Trump’s agenda, this does not only send negative a message to our Hispanic community, but also seems to be blatantly rooted in racism. 

What does this mean on a local level?

Minneapolis has taken the lead in the state of Minnesota in trying to protect residents of all races, nationalities, and religions. Community members in Duluth, now look to Minneapolis for guidance on how to go about the same. Duluth City Council passed a symbolic ’Immigration Policy’ back in 2014, stating that Duluth’s Police resources not be attributed to enforcing federal immigration laws. “I want to let you know, that in 2014 we organized as a community on this, and now it just looks a little different,” said Susana Pelayo-Woodward. The conversation, now re-sparked due the Trump Administration choices mentioned above, will probably entail revising Duluth’s ‘Immigration Policy’ to suit today’s particular circumstances. 

Duluth will now be going forward in more community engagements and discussions on what can be done and how, to try to equally protect all of our residents in the northland, and to create a safe environment where ignorance and racism do not call the shots.