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Immigration bill touted

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota businesses would benefit if a U.S. Senate-passed immigration reform law becomes law, U.S. Sen. Al Franken and other bill supporters say.

"It fixes our broken immigration system," the Democratic Minnesota senator said.

The bill would provide a pathway for illegal immigrants to become American citizens, which in many cases could take 13 years. About 85,000 undocumented immigrants live in Minnesota.

President Ramon Leon of the Minneapolis-based Latino Economic Development Center said that as immigrants work toward becoming citizens, businesses would pay them more and the immigrants would be more likely to spend money on things ranging from food to houses. The bill, if it becomes law, would give more certainty to businesses, Leon said.

Marianne Peterson, a Pine City dairy farmer, said that about half of her colleagues hire outside help. In places like Willmar and Worthington that already have strong immigrant communities, she said, more people likely would move from other countries, increasing the labor pool.

Peterson said rural areas especially need workers as people move to cities.

"These are decent jobs," she said of dairy positions.

Immigrants often are recruited for jobs at the extremes, high tech and manual labor, where there are worker shortages.

Some businesses that could employ immigrants are hesitant because of legal issues and "the current economic climate," Leon said. The immigration bill could help convince businesses to expand, he added.

Franken, who took reporters on a tour Monday, said the Congressional Budget Office indicates the bill would help the country's economy.

While most illegal immigrants would be put on a 13-year path to citizenship, the law would allow some like agriculture workers to become citizens sooner, Franken said.

A provision Franken authored in the bill would help prevent what happened in December of 2006 when federal immigration officials raided a Worthington plant. Undocumented workers were removed from Minnesota, leaving many children, mostly legal residents, without parents.

Franken said the bill would protect children in future raids so they are not separated from parents.

"One second grader in Worthington came home from school to find his 2-year-old brother alone and his parents gone," Franken told fellow senators last week. "For the next week, he cared for his brother while his grandmother drove from Texas to meet them."

The bill also would end businesses taking improper advantage of undocumented workers, Franken said.

"They are living in the shadows," he said of the illegal immigrants. "These people are very easy to exploit."

The Democratic-controlled Senate bill is not likely to receive a good reception in the GOP-run House. It is unclear if the House will do anything on immigration reform this year, although Democrats point to the fact that the Senate bill passed with considerable Republican support.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.