No borders, no problem? 

What lies ahead for a Minnesota ‘sanctuary state.’

The modern coach-style tour bus parked in front of a south metro suburban hotel gave little hint as to the epic journey it had just completed. The blue and white bus marked “Del Rio” has just arrived from Guadalajara, Mexico, completing a 2,000-mile journey in under two days. The Del Rio buses gather passengers from throughout central and southern Mexico, cross the international border at Laredo, Texas, and then pick up I-35 north for the long drive to destinations in the Upper Midwest states, including the Twin Cities metro area. These buses make the journey to Minnesota twice a week, sometimes in caravans of two or three.  

The many years of operation of the direct Del Rio, Mexico-to-Minnesota bus service speaks to the long and deep ties between two places geographically and seemingly culturally distant from each other. 

The popularity of the bus route will come as no surprise to those who study Minnesota demographics. According to the most recent data available, there are more than 500,000 people in Minnesota who were born in another country, out of a total state population of 5.7 million.  

Although well below the national share, Minnesota’s share of foreign-born exceeds that of every neighboring state.  

Mexico is the individual nation most represented within Minnesota’s foreign-born population, with more than 62,000 residents. More broadly, Latin America accounts for more than 111,000 (including Mexico) of the foreign-born population, and East Africa adds another 95,000 to Minnesota’s population. Around two-fifths (38 percent) of the foreign-born population have arrived since 2010. Most of the state’s foreign-born population have become naturalized U.S. citizens when they meet qualifying standards.  

Immigrants from Latin America and Africa are among the more recent arrivals in Minnesota. Migrants from Asia still rank as the largest continent of origin, contributing 181,000 residents. The early waves of immigrants from Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries have passed from the scene. Today, fewer than 45,000 Minnesota residents were born in Europe. Of the current European-born population, Germany and Russia each contributed about 6,400.  

The source of these figures is the Washington, D.C.-based research group Migration Policy Institute and reflects 2022 data. The Institute is also the source of a widely used estimate (dating from 2019) of the number of illegal immigrants residing in Minnesota: 81,000. Within this 2019 estimate, the Institute pegs the number from Mexico at 35,000.  

Changing demographics  

A 2021 estimate assembled by the Pew Research Center places the Minnesota undocumented population at a higher level of 90,000. There are reasons to believe the equivalent 2024 numbers are certain to be significantly higher.  

According to data reported by the U.S. Census Bureau, the state’s population would be shrinking without the recent influx of international arrivals. Since the last census in 2020, the number of people leaving Minnesota for other states has exceeded the “natural” population increase (annual births minus deaths). Only the arrival of foreign-born migrants has kept state growth positive — with a net increase of just 23,600 in the past year.  

The departures and arrivals have not been uniform across the state. Population losses to other states have been concentrated in the core Metro counties of Hennepin (Minneapolis) and Ramsey (St. Paul). New arrivals frequently start in the core counties of Hennepin and Ramsey but disperse to where employment is more readily available. At least in the recent past, the county with the highest share of foreign-born immigrants in the state (nearly 20 percent) could be found in Nobles, in the southwest corner of the state.  

On a national level, the foreign-born population statistics are even more surprising. The nonprofit Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) issued a report in late March of this year that estimates the nationwide foreign-born population at more than 51.4 million, or more than 15.5 percent of the total. At those levels, the foreign-born population represents the greatest share of the total population than at any point in American history.  

This is a remarkable fact, considering that the first national census was conducted in 1790, and recalling the huge immigrant waves in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Put another way, about one in every six people currently living in the United States was born in another country.  

CIS reports that the foreign-born population had been declining nationally during 2019 and 2020, the final two years of the Trump administration. CIS finds that over the past three years, the first three of the Biden administration, America’s foreign-born population has grown by some 6.4 million people. Most of those are believed to be illegal immigrants, and most of the illegal immigrants, in turn, are thought to be from Latin America. In fact, CIS estimates that more than half of all new arrivals (55 percent), both legal and illegal, are from Latin America.  

South America moves north  

Most recently, the largest growing source of migrants to the U.S. is the South American nation of Venezuela. A different South American nation, Ecuador, appears to be Minnesota’s largest source of recent newcomers. Thousands of recent arrivals to Minnesota originated there, many finding their way via New York City. And Minnesota has taken its share of refugees from Afghanistan, Ukraine, and other unstable regions. 

These Ecuadorians await their fate with other recent immigrants at the Minnesota office of the Federal Immigration Court housed in the Fort Snelling federal complex. Officially known as the Executive Office for Immigration Review of the U.S. Department of Justice, the Fort Snelling location has a reported record backlog of open cases approaching 39,000, as reported by the Star Tribune. 

The Tribune reported on several occasions on the large influx of Ecuadorian migrants arriving in recent months. Hundreds of Ecuadorian families are being housed by Hennepin County at taxpayer expense in area hotels. Ecuadorian adults have been offering their services in active day-labor markets on West Lake Street in south Minneapolis. (American Experiment sent its cameras to West Lake earlier this spring to document the phenomenon, in videos available on our YouTube channel at  

The newcomer families include young children who are then enrolled in local public schools. On the one hand, the new arrivals are helping to stem the tide of declining enrollments but bring with them language challenges for local educators.  

The state’s Department of Human Services estimates that 33,500 refugees arrived in Minnesota between 2005 and 2020. During that 15-year period, Somalia led all countries of origin with 13,700. Myanmar (Burma) was a distant second with 8,800.  

The immigration/open borders phenomenon is linked to several social ills that have also reached Minnesota.  

Perhaps most remarkable is a story out of the St. Cloud area, where a group of 11 local Minnesota residents are being prosecuted in federal court in Fargo, N.D., for allegedly running a multi-state drug smuggling operation involving methamphetamine, fentanyl, and cocaine in conjunction with the dangerous Sinaloa cartel — associated with drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman — out of Mexico. The mugshots of the Minnesotans involved appear to resemble suburban soccer moms more than the hardened “cartel soldiers” as described in local media.  

More tragically, a January triple murder in Coon Rapids has been linked to Mexican drug smuggling. Allegedly, one of the victims, Mario Alberto Trejo Estrada, had ties to the Mexican drug trade through trafficking narcotics. KARE 11 News reported on April 4, “The search warrant application says that based on the experience and training of task force members, drug traffickers often wire proceeds from drug sales to Mexico or ‘other source states.’” And, “both Trejo Estrada and his wife/girlfriend Shannon Jungwirth have wired a large amount of money multiple times to various individuals in Mexico.”  

An earlier, gruesome case happened in July 2021, when Alexis Saborit, an illegal immigrant from Cuba, beheaded his girlfriend, America Thayer, in broad daylight in downtown Shakopee.  

Considering these shocking cases, it should come as no surprise that in late February, when the Pew Research Center published its annual poll tracking nationwide voter priorities, the immigration issue ranked high. For Republican-leaning voters, this year, immigration joined terrorism as their second-greatest concern, ranking ahead of all other issues except the economy. For Democratic-leaning voters, the issue of immigration didn’t crack the top 10.  

Regardless, a small group of Democratic (DFL) legislators are pressing ahead with sanctuary state proposals here in Minnesota.  

Mirroring the national Pew result on the broader issue of immigration, the idea of making Minnesota into a sanctuary state is widely unpopular with state voters. As described in this issue’s statewide Thinking Minnesota Poll conducted in mid-March, 59 percent of voters oppose the idea, with only 34 percent supporting sanctuary state status.  

Nearly half (47 percent) of those surveyed in Minnesota are strongly opposed to the sanctuary idea, with only 17 percent of voters strongly supporting it. A wide majority of Republicans and Independents oppose sanctuary state status, with most Democrats in favor.

Voters of all persuasions — even a majority of Democrats — agree that the federal government is not doing enough regarding the situation at the border. Our Thinking Minnesota Poll found 69 percent don’t think the federal government has done enough, including 53 percent of Democrats.  

Open borders  

When “the border” is discussed, most people automatically think of America’s southern border with Mexico. In Minnesota, however, many have also heard of increasing problems along the nation’s northern border with Canada. For fiscal year 2024, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) reports that illegal immigrant apprehensions at the northern border have more than doubled since the same period last year. Although the rising numbers have garnered more attention, the problems are nothing new. American Experiment has been tracking the federal criminal case against a Daytona, Fla., man charged in connection with the death of a South Asian family along the U.S.-Canadian border. The family froze to death in a failed effort to cross illegally into Minnesota from Manitoba on a blustery day in January 2022. The frozen bodies of the parents and their two children were located less than 40 feet from the Minnesota border.  

The Daytona man was allegedly involved in that family’s failed cross-border smuggling, along with helping seven other migrants who survived the ordeal. He and another Florida resident (a citizen of India) have only been charged locally with smuggling the seven migrants who made it into the United States.  

Two sets of sanctuary state bills (HF 2860/SF 2724 and HF3459/SF 3516) have been introduced in the past two years at the Minnesota Legislature by the same authors: Sen. Omar Fateh (DFL-Minneapolis) and Rep. Sandra Feist (DFL-New Brighton). As of this writing, none of the bills has received a committee hearing, despite supporters holding multiple press conferences and rallies at the Capitol.  

Both sets of bills focus on restricting local units of government and state authorities from cooperating with federal immigration enforcement. In a nod to marketing, the newer pair of bills omits the words “sanctuary state” from the text, without altering the legislative intent. Instead, the bills are referred to by (and capitalized by) supporters as the North STAR Act.  

In tracking the sanctuary phenomenon, CIS lists 12 states with that status. For the most part, they are the usual blue-state suspects — California, Illinois, New York, etc. — with one surprising exception: Utah.  

Localities in Minnesota listed under sanctuary status include Hennepin County and Nobles County. A few localities in Iowa are listed as sanctuaries, but none in any other neighboring state. 

Sanctuary implications  

In a March 5 Star Tribune opinion piece, Sens. Fateh and Feist claim that their sanctuary proposal would not extend to criminal matters. However, a strict reading of the bill’s text and past practices by sanctuary Hennepin County may suggest otherwise.  

Fateh and Feist also claim that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is not a “law enforcement” agency. That claim is contradicted by the agency itself, which reports that it employs thousands of “law enforcement” personnel enforcing hundreds of federal statutes.

Their bill also prohibits cooperation with CBP, and an earlier version also prohibits cooperation with Homeland Security, the U.S. Marshals Service, and “any other federal agency.”  

Most disturbing are the many reports from across the nation of illegal immigrant criminals, released by sanctuary communities despite requests from ICE and other agencies, who go on to commit even more heinous violent crimes. The most recent, infamous case was the bludgeoning death of Athens, Ga., nursing student Laken Riley by an illegal immigrant from Venezuela who had been detained for other crimes in sanctuary communities in New York and Georgia. He was released despite federal requests that he be handed over.  

A recent Republican candidate for Minnesota’s attorney general, Jim Schultz, wrote a counterpoint, also published by the Star Tribune. He argues that the bill would encourage more illegal immigration to the state.  

For their part, Republicans in the Legislature have introduced bills to ban sanctuary cities within the state. In reporting on the developments at the Capitol, Alpha News noted that, “In 2023, Democrats approved legislation that gave illegal immigrants access to driver’s licenses, a state-run health insurance program, and free college tuition.”  

In what may be a preview of coming attractions, in late March 2024, Democrats in the Legislature offered another pair of bills (HF 5100/SF 5106) that would create a state-level unemployment insurance program available exclusively to illegal immigrants. Under current law, illegal immigrants are not eligible for federal unemployment benefits. Billed as the “Worker Opportunity Act,” the proposal is backed by two Minneapolis Democrats, Rep. Aisha Gomez and Sen. Zaynab Mohamed. 

Under this proposal, an unemployed illegal alien applicant would verify their identity with the driver’s license mentioned above. The bill provides an initial $10 million of taxpayer money to seed the program, which would be administered by a private third-party entity to be chosen later.  

To facilitate these and similar efforts, the Walz administration has created an Office of New Americans within the state’s Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED).  

As polling suggests — along with the popularity of American Experiment’s recently launched campaign “No Sanctuary State!” — a majority of Minnesotans oppose the proposals put forward at the Capitol. The question now is whether our political leaders will listen.