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Unwrapping immigration's complexities: Attorney speaks on issue during One Book, One Farmington event

Immigration rights attorney Michele Garnett McKenzie is deputy director of The Advocates for Human Rights in Minneapolis. She discussed immigration issues in Minnesota and the country Tuesday, Oct. 10, at Farmington Library during the weekly One Book, One Farmington lecture series. Kara Hildreth / contributor

Understanding the backstory of human rights and the complexity of immigration law was discussed at a recent One Book, One Farmington library presentation.

Michele Garnett McKenzie shared her presentation, "Immigration and Human Rights in Minnesota" at the Oct. 10 Farmington Library weekly talk that is part of the One Book, One Farmington collaboration between Farmington educators and the Farmington Library.

As the deputy director for The Advocates for Human Rights and an immigration rights attorney, McKenzie represents asylum seekers and detained immigrants. She gave a synopsis on the complex history of immigration law and current human rights advocacy efforts underway in the United States.

"We know how immigration is in the news and it feels like almost every day we hear about immigration police or issues surrounding immigration," McKenzie said. "Our hope is that we can help people understand the complexity of U.S. immigration policy and how it fits into the world and how it fits into history and creating our own identity. What can we do to make sure that our policy serves us the best it can and the short answer is that people want to know how it works and it can be very complicated."

The initiative discusses the 2017 book "A Good Time for Truth: Race in Minnesota" that chronicles essays from 16 Minnesota writers that tell their stories of what it has been like to live in Minnesota as a person of color. The book offers stories that reveal humanity and unveil both politeness and masks people of color have experienced living in the state.

The book's themes allow readers to experience how life and relationships may be experienced as an immigrant. The mission of the One Book, One Farmington is to encourage an intergenerational community experience centered on literature to stretch residents' perspectives of the world around us, according to Barb Svoboda, branch manager at Farmington Library.

McKenzie said Minnesota communities struggle with some of the nation's worst racial disparities. The authors of this book confront the realities beneath the numbers.

The nonprofit Advocates for Human Rights is a volunteer-driven group founded in 1983 to implement internationally recognized human rights standards.

"We have hundreds of volunteers providing free legal service for people seeking asylum and we are working on many other projects," McKenzie said. The nonprofit also works with human trafficking issues.

When news about how the federal DACA program was ending, the discussion took place on how this would affect Minnesota students and families.

"The impact of DACA or Dreamers is a great microcosm of the whole immigration system," McKenzie said. "The direct impact on kids is who now going to be losing status. People who are given two-year work permits will work out the permits and then we will see rolling, or cascading groups of people falling out of the status and the next several years, work permits will expire."

She added: "Each of those family members has a mom or sister or child who lives in our community and a student or someone working in a community."

The impact from the end of DACA would be felt as a disruption in many communities both socially and economically as people who currently hold jobs would have to leave them, McKenzie explained.

"Immigration goes to the core of our identity and we have to decide who is in and who is out, and that is a struggle that Americans and the United States had to face before it became an independent country," she said.

Immigration facts

21.3 million refugees worldwide

125,600 refugees resettled worldwide

84,994 refugees resettled in United States

3.2 million people are considered asylum seekers globally

26,124 people granted asylum in the United States

Refugee ban

In the United States, the refugee ban paused refugee resettlement for 120 days.

In 2018, the refugee resettlement levels are set at 45,000 in United States.

New policies are directed at limiting asylum.

For more information or to volunteer, contact The Advocates for Human Rights at 612-341-3302 or

Source: The Advocates for Human Rights