While accompanying Mexican President Vicente Fox on his visit to Minnesota on June 18, Governor Tim Pawlenty was suddenly lauding the tens of thousands of Mexican immigrants who have revitalized Lake Street in Minneapolis and many other enclaves around the state. Our governor was much more reticent, however, about his own efforts to enact a law putting an immigrant’s visa status on state driver’s licenses, in color-coded form for easy detection.
Pawlenty’s 2002 gubernatorial campaign, you may recall, ran an emotional ad that linked status checks to the fight against terrorism, pandering to the fears--and presumed racism--of voters. Since he took office, Pawlenty’s efforts have been stymied in the legislature.
Fox’s visit allowed Pawlenty to buff up his image and court the state’s Mexican and immigrant vote. But at the Head of State dinner honoring Fox at the Minneapolis Convention Center, Angel Morales briefly rained on Pawlenty’s parade. Morales, the Minnesota advisor for the Institute for Mexicans Abroad, was scheduled to speak for just a minute or two. But Morales’s speech--which he labored over for nearly a month--ran three times longer than that.
"There is an elephant in this room that must be acknowledged," he said. "The majority of recent Mexican immigrants to this state--the very same immigrants who are responsible for the positive economic impacts we all acknowledge--are undocumented." After praising the mayors of Minneapolis and St. Paul for passing ordinances that allow immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses with a permit from the Mexican consulate as their identification, Morales noted that "our state leaders have not taken this same common-sense approach." He then cited the efforts of Pawlenty and state officials to label undocumented immigrants as "possible terrorists." Calling Pawlenty out by name, Morales hoped the governor would "recognize allimmigrants not just in terms of dollars, but also in terms of basic human dignity."
Sources claim members of Fox’s entourage were "appalled" when apprised of Pawlenty’s proposals. For his part, Morales says that he had implored Fox to address the driver’s license issue earlier that day, but the President demurred, saying it was a local issue. Morales also notes that after the speech, a number of "Republican Hispanics" came up to him and said, "be careful." "Yes, I took it as a threat," he says. "But there is not much they can do to me. I belong to no political party and all my [immigration] papers are in order. Besides, many more people—eighty to ninety percent—were supportive of what I did."