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How will rollback of 'dreamers' program affect Minnesota?

U.S. Sen. All Franken, D-Minn.1 / 2
Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Minn.2 / 2

ST. PAUL — On Tuesday, the Trump administration announced it would rescind an Obama-era law that allowed immigrants who came to America illegally as children to remain, if they applied with the federal government.

Here's how that affects Minnesota.

What happened?

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Tuesday, Sept. 5, that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — commonly known as DACA — would be rescinded, meaning those who applied to stay in the country would no longer be legally recognized.

Calling the program, which was enacted by President Barack Obama, an "unconstitutional exercise of authority by the executive branch," Sessions added, "we cannot admit everyone who would like to come here. That would be an open borders policy, and the American people have rightly rejected."

The Trump administration is giving Congress six months to arrive at a legislative fix before the government stops renewing the program's two-year permits.

In anticipation of the announcement, Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat, said those in the program "deserve the same opportunities to work hard and succeed as other Minnesotans, and they will add to our economy, when they do. As long as I am governor, Minnesota will stand by the commitments we have made to them."

The Minnesota GOP released a statement Tuesday saying, "The President's actions on DACA are reasonable, humane and ensure we are a nation of laws, not merely executive actions. The U.S. Constitution is clear on the subject."

How many Minnesotans?

According to the most recent data from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which processes the DACA applications, the federal government has received 6,930 applications from Minnesota as of March 31.

Of those, 6,255 have been approved. The majority of immigrants come from Mexico, according to the federal data.

But there are a large number of potentially eligible immigrants who hadn't yet applied. In general, applicants had to prove they came to the country before they were 16; have no felony convictions; be younger than age 31 in 2012; and either have a high school degree or be working toward one.

The Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan nonprofit think tank that studies immigration, estimated that roughly 16,000 Minnesotans could have qualified for DACA, based on data from 2009 to 2013. At that time, about 5,000 — roughly a third — were under the age of 16, the minimum age required to apply.

Minnesota state demographer Susan Brower said that when her office analyzed census data a few years ago and compared them with the Institute's numbers, "We came out almost exactly the same."

How will changes affect state?

John Keller, executive director of the immigrant law center, a St. Paul-based nonprofit that provides immigration legal services, said getting rid of DACA will mean more people dropping out of the formal economy, paying state and local taxes and contributing to Social Security.

According to state demographer data, for years there has been a net loss of Minnesota residents to other states — known as "domestic migration" — which is compensated only by "international migration," people coming in from other countries.

"It just barely compensates for the number we lose each year," demographer Brower said. In 2015, for example, the state lost 12,000 people to other states — but the migration total rose slightly due to roughly 15,000 international immigrants.

And as for the state's labor force, Brower said, "International migration is contributing to much of the growth we do have. If we only had white, non-Hispanic workers, our labor force would begin contraction. There are so many 65-year-olds that are now moving into retirement."

According to state data, from mid-2011 to mid-2015, the state workforce lost 13,000 white, U.S.-born laborers. U.S.-born minorities added 33,000 to the workforce — and immigrants added a whopping 49,000. Without them, Minnesota's growth would have been relatively minuscule.

In the past, the labor force has grown at a significantly larger rate — and many economists say the available labor pool greatly impacted that.

In the 1990s, for example, the state's workforce grew by 55,000 workers. Each year.

Compare that with 17,000 a year the first half of this decade. And that's only with the added 49,000 foreign-born workers.

With baby boomers retiring, Brower and others predict even tougher times ahead: 6,000 to 7,000 in labor force growth is the state's estimate. And that's with the current levels of immigration.

"If there's a crimp on migration, it's going to be even lower than that. We're moving into this period where employers are going to find it more and more difficult to find people," Brower said.

What happens to college students?

The Minnesota Office of Higher Education says some 1,300 students have benefited from a 2013 state law that makes resident noncitizens eligible for the same kinds of college financial aid that citizens get.

That aid is not going away, despite President Donald Trump's order.

"As a state, we decide who our students are and who will receive benefits," Commissioner Larry Pogemiller said in a release.

The Minnesota Dream Act applies to undocumented students who attended a state high school for at least three years and either graduated or earned an equivalency degree. Under the act, those students pay in-state tuition rates and can receive state grants and privately funded financial aid offered by individual colleges and universities.

The state says 852 students applied under the Dream Act last school year and 485 were awarded state grants worth an average of $1,812. About half of those attended state two-year colleges, and one-quarter attended private colleges and universities.

While rescinding DACA would put those students and others at risk of deportation, University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler said the U system will do "everything possible under law" to support its students.

"They were given a promise that they would not be targeted for deportation. Today's decision, while delaying the process, still raises that unconscionable possibility," he said.

How has Minnesota responded?

U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken and U.S. Reps. Betty McCollum and Tim Walz, all Minnesota Democrats, released statements Tuesday supporting the DACA program and decrying the White House's action. Meanwhile, Minnesota Republican U.S. Reps.Tom Emmer and Jason Lewis said the action was correcting Obama's executive overreach.

An estimated 400 to 500 people rallied in Minneapolis on Tuesday afternoon in support of DACA. There were teachers, spouses and friends of affected Minnesotans.

One of them was Carlos Parra Olivera. He said he's been in the United States since he was 6 years old in 2000. He got DACA status in 2013. He's now 22.

"Our parents, they didn't do anything wrong. They did what anybody else would do," he said at Tuesday's rally. "With poverty, police and war, we all want a place to live peacefully. This is a place we thought that was possible.

"Today's a devastating day for so many people, but what I really like is to see so many people standing behind us," Olivera said.

Sarah Chavey and David Montgomery contributed to this report.