A new government report that pegs the public cost of illegal immigration in Minnesota at up to $188 million a year was released Thursday, setting the stage for what could be a divisive and pivotal debate in next year’s legislative session and election campaign.
The report was commissioned by Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who so far has offered no policy proposals related to it. But he and his chief spokesman indicated that such initiatives may not be long in coming.
“Many communities across Minnesota and the country have concerns regarding illegal immigration,” the Republican governor said in a news release.
“We need to remember that we are a nation of immigrants and we should support immigration that is legal and orderly,” he said. “Unfortunately, the current system is neither and needs to be reformed.”
Spokesman Brian McClung added that the administration would have legislative proposals for consideration next year. Meanwhile, he said, Pawlenty is conducting “listening sessions” with a cross-section of Minnesotans, including immigrants.
Reaction from some immigrant advocates was swift and not at all positive.
“It’s playing to racism, basically,” said Rep. Karen Clark, DFL-Minneapolis. “ . . . I think it is a desperate move. I’m very sad that Governor Pawlenty would go in this direction again.”
She recalled that a controversial TV ad calling for specially marked driver’s licenses for foreign visitors energized Pawlenty’s lagging gubernatorial campaign in 2002. “It really put him over the top,” she said. “But it became a basis for harassment of people and gave us no protection against terrorism.”