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Minnesota not so nice to newcomers, report finds

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A new report finds Minnesota is not as "Minnesota Nice" as many think, at least when it comes to immigrants and refugees.

The report, by the Minneapolis-based non-profit Advocates for Human Rights, is called Moving from Exclusion to Belonging. It is based on hundreds of interviews with immigrants and communities across the state over the last two years.

Researchers found that many immigrants and refugees in Minnesota face barriers to equal access in employment, education, health care and other basic needs, and are excluded from the most basic protections needed to ensure that every person lives with dignity.

The report notes immigrants and refugees face particular challenges living in Minnesota, a state with some of the worst racial disparities in the country.

“Our tolerance for intolerance has gone down,” said Michele Garnett McKenzie, director of advocacy for the group. “But as far as immigration and immigration policy, it’s been dramatically opposite. It’s been dramatically worsening,” the Star Tribune reports.

Minnesota is home to the second largest Hmong community and the largest Somali community in the United States. And since 1990, the state’s Latino population has more than tripled, increasing from about 54,000 to more than 175,000 people in 2004.

More than 230 languages are spoken in the homes of Minnesota students, the report notes.

Advocates for Human Rights' report identifies federal policies which it says create a sense of exclusion for newcomers to the state.

Those include what it calls “meager provisions” of a maximum 90 days of assistance for refugees after arrival, and a six-month wait before asylum seekers become eligible to apply for a work permit.

The report calls on lawmakers to make changes in policies, practices, laws and regulations that don't respect and protect the rights of immigrants and refugees.

The recommendations include changes to how law enforcement can interact with legal and illegal immigrants, better enforcement of worker protections, increased funding for and changes to the educational system to promote equality.

The group also supports legislation that would allow unauthorized immigrants to obtain a legal driver's license. The bill, passed by the Senate last year, is moving through House committees, MPR News reports.

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