Immigrant rights advocates on Thursday rallied outside the Minneapolis City Council chambers, demanding city leaders implement a list of “pro-immigrant” changes. Credit: Faiza Mahamud | Star Tribune

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Immigrants’ rights advocates are pushing Minneapolis to finally issue municipal identification cards to residents regardless of their immigration status.

The city passed the municipal ID ordinance in 2018 as a way to help residents obtain services such as bank accounts. But it halted the program’s launch over concerns the information could be used to identify immigrants for deportation.

“The city refuses to implement this policy for fear of putting immigrants at risk,” Council Member Aisha Chughtai said Thursday at a news conference, where she was flanked by at least two dozen sign-carrying advocates. “But immigrants take risks every day, and we have to respond to the call to let immigrants make those choices for themselves.”

Implementing the municipal ID program is one of several demands advocates issued at the news conference. They also called on Mayor Jacob Frey and the City Council to take immediate action to improve and protect the lives of immigrant residents, including those who are undocumented.

Census data shows that about 15% of Minneapolis residents are foreign-born. A 2016 Pew Research report found about 70,000 metro-area residents were undocumented.

The Minnesota Immigrant Rights Action Committee (MIRAC), a grassroots immigrant-rights organization, is spearheading the new Immigrant Power Now campaign in pursuit of “pro-immigrant changes” in Minneapolis.

The group’s demands include creating financial assistance for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals renewal applications, boosting funding and staffing levels for the city’s Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs, and stopping Minneapolis police from arresting residents for citable offenses that could put them on immigration authorities’ radar.

Chughtai, a first-generation immigrant who represents the 10th Ward, said it’s imperative that the city makes progress on all the proposals. But she said implementing the municipal ID program is a major priority for her because the cards could help make people safer and create a sense of belonging.

Immigrant rights advocates held a news conference Thursday at Minneapolis City Hall to unveil a list of demands they say will help improve and protect the lives of immigrants. Credit: Faiza Mahamud

Chughtai, a member of MIRAC, said the municipal ID cards would stop unnecessary arrests of many undocumented residents while allowing for greater access to services, such as opening bank accounts, renting apartments and receiving medical care.

Under the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act, data collected by the city when people apply for municipal ID cards would be public. And anyone, including federal immigration authorities, could get access it.

The city should explain those risks to immigrants instead of pausing plans to implement the program, advocates say.

Although Minneapolis calls itself a sanctuary city, it’s not yet the place where immigrants can lead full, healthy, thriving lives.

Akhi Menawat, a member of the Minnesota Immigrant Rights Action Committee

Rochester, Northfield and other cities across Minnesota are offering municipal IDs, said Akhi Menawat, a member of MIRAC. The city must follow suit because the ID cards would also help transgender people and youth, he said.

“Although Minneapolis calls itself a sanctuary city, it’s not yet the place where immigrants can lead full, healthy, thriving lives,” Menawat said. “Cities are the last line of defense when it comes to many issues including immigration.”

Council Member Jason Chavez, who represents the racially diverse Ninth Ward, said MIRAC’s effort will make sure that immigration justice is achieved in Minneapolis to prevent involuntary and “unjust” deportations and help people thrive in the city.

Chavez, the son of Mexican parents, said he has seen family and friends deported even though they considered the United States their home.

“When our state and federal governments fail to support immigrant communities, the city of Minneapolis must protect all immigrants in the city of Minneapolis,” Chavez said.

MIRAC leaders said they will begin meeting with city leaders and the community to make progress on their demands.

Star Tribune interactive data journalist Jeff Hargarten contributed to this report.

Faiza Mahamud covers Minneapolis for the Star Tribune. She has previously covered education, immigrant communities, city government and neighborhoods.