AdvocatesFor as long as humans have been around, they have been on the move. People move towards food, and being nearer to family. They move away from persecution and violence. Sometimes they move simply for adventure. Movement is human nature. With this given fact as her springboard Michelle Garnett McKenzie, Deputy Director from ​The Advocates for Human Rights ​explained how our immigration policy in this country has fallen short of addressing this basic human fact. Even here in Minnesota, 1,500 miles from the Mexican border, we could do better at processing the movement of people if we first face this fact of human nature.

At SCVANOW’s sponsored event, McKenzie spoke to a group of concerned citizens on this topic. She explained that the Advocate for Human Rights is a homegrown organization started in 1983. Now it is made up of over 1000 volunteers who provide legal services, support, training, and fact-finding for those who are on the move from their native country in matters of life and death.

Often here in Minnesota it is a situation of human trafficking that sends an individual in the direction of ​The Advocates for Human Rights​ hoping to get help seeking asylum or to get them out of a situation where they are held against their will for labor or sex; without a passport, documentation or anyone advocating for them, they are incarcerated without committing a crime. This happens here in Minnesota and​ The Advocates for Human Rights ​works on several hundred asylum-seeking cases per year.

The main problem seems to be that instead of addressing the need for more legal services for asylum seekers, the system creates restrictions, enlarges our army of border patrols and build more detention centers. Our current immigration policy was created in 1965 making it grossly outdated and ineffective. It is primarily based on chain migration, where family members can sponsor other family members to come to this country. There is also some immigration based on merit or skills that would be marketable to this country’s economy. Both of these policies favor white immigrants and obviously are not favorable to those coming here from unstable countries escaping life-threatening situations.

As the world population grows and people move more frequently, the problem as Ms. Mckenzie notes becomes even more of a ​tempest in a teacup. ​There are currently 600-700 asylum seekers detained in MN County Jails. If these detainees admit to being here illegally, they are sent back to their native country to face peril and mortal danger. If they ask for asylum they must defend in court the position that if they go back to their native country they will be persecuted or in harm’s way because of their religion, race, or political views. Often this is impossible to prove and likely they will be in detention for two years or more before there case is even heard.

McKenzie had us imagine a scenario as if we were suddenly attacked by hostile Wisconsinites and had to run for our lives on foot to Canada. Would we be able to make it the mere 260 miles to the border? Would we have our passports, birth certificates, proper documentation to request asylum? Or would we more likely end up in a detention center without any resources or support? It is clear, to address immigration the archaic policies must be changed and a lot more services like ​The Advocates for Human Rights​ are needed. Here is their website with ways you can help: ​The Advocates for Human Rights

By Peg Ludtke

In addition to the information from their the Advocates website, Ms. McKenzie provided us with the following handout at her presentation: Advocates.  The handout describes many different ways that you can take action to help The Advocates for Human Rights in their effort to support immigrants.  They need court observers, asylum attorneys, and volunteers for the MSP Support Network and the Conversations With Friends, two volunteer organizations that work to help immigrants.  You can contribute to the Minnesota Freedom Fund.  Please help however you are able!

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