Community Meeting

About 100 Northfield community members, white and minority, gathered at St. Dominic’s Church Sunday to voice concerns and come up with solutions after United States election results have left some local residents worried. (Photo courtesy of Mar Valdecantos)

Since the United States presidential election Nov. 8, several Northfield Latino community members have been voicing their worries, concerns and even alleged instances of discrimination in town.

At Tuesday's City Council meeting, community members asked for the city to provide a display of support for minorities in Northfield, and the council answered. In a 6-1 vote, councillors passed a resolution "affirming the city of Northfield's commitment to be a safe, inclusive and welcoming community for all.”

"Northfield is proud of its efforts in these areas but appreciates the concerns and anxieties expressed recently," said City Administrator Ben Martig in an introductory memo to the resolution. "This resolution re-affirms some of the values and is an opportunity for continuous improvement philosophy in these areas in our city operations and broader community as a whole."

Councillor David Ludescher voted against the measure. He noted that he is supportive of a community that stands behind all of its residents, but he didn't feel the resolution said anything new.

"I’ve never been in favor of resolutions that carry no weight to them, and I think this is one that carries no weight at all," he said. "In fact, I think it’s one to further the divisiveness of the community."

The resolution is not so much a list of actions or rules as it is statements. It notes that Northfield is "strengthened and enriched" by its diversity and calls for residents of the city to "live up to our highest societal values of acceptance and equality."

It also makes commitments that the Human Rights Commission and other city boards will work to provide equal opportunity for all in town, that the city will be a welcoming place for all identities and that city programs will not be utilized for the purpose of enforcing federal immigration laws.

Several community members stood up during the comment section to express their support for the motion. They explained that this motion genuinely means something to them.

"There are a lot of reasons you might believe this is a hollow statement or just symbolic, but it is a statement backed by the chief of police and will give us an incredible feeling of relief," said Arique Aguilar.

All of this comes on the heels of a meeting at St. Dominic's Church in Northfield Sunday. About 100 residents, white and minority, gathered at the church to share concerns, worries and solutions for living in the United States after a contentious national election.

Many across the nation have worried that the recent election results are cause to believe that a large percentage of Americans are unwelcome to certain populations. Those fears were presented and talked about at Sunday's meeting.

"The community gathered to talk about what’s going to be happening with [Donald] Trump as president-elect," said one of the organizers and speakers Marlene Rojas. "There were so many concerns in the community about kids being bullied in the schools and also adults in the workplace."

Rojas went on to describe a few specific stories brought forward by community members.

"One of the testimonies... this man works at a local business, and one of the clients came in and told him 'he better pack his suitcase because you’re going to be deported soon,'" she recalled.

"Another man shared that some co-workers showed him videos of people burning the Mexican flag," she went on. "The same man's son came home crying and said he doesn’t want to go back to school, because some kids told him he is going to get deported."

Northfield School District Superintendent Matt Hillmann was on hand to express his support for the community, saying that he will be working hard to ensure discrimination does not take place in the schools.

Mayor-elect and current city councilor Rhonda Pownell was also on hand. Community members asked her to lead action at the city level to put protections in place against discrimination.

Eventually, it was suggested that the city bring forth consideration of an ordinance similar to one that the city of Minneapolis passed. That ordinance makes it official that although Homeland Security has the legal authority to enforce immigration laws in the United States, the city of Minneapolis does not operate its programs for that purpose.

The Northfield resolution mentioned above notes the same stance, but it does not serve as city law until it is enacted as an ordinance. Councillors Pownell, Erica Zweifel, Jessica Peterson White and Suzie Nakasian all expressed interest to city staff in considering the ordinance.

At Tuesday's council meeting, the group decided they would discuss the ordinance possibility at a Dec. 13 special meeting. City staff recommended the ordinance not actually be considered for adoption until the start of 2017, so workers have more time to review how it has been applied in other cities and how it would affect Northfield.

Reach Reporter Philip Weyhe at 507-333-3132 or follow him on Twitter @nfnphilweyhe.

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