Editors: Maddalena Marinari, Catherine Lim, and Lillie Ortloff
Minnesota, a state of intense recent migration and refugee resettlement, represents a uniquely important site to examine the impact of COVID-19 on immigrant and refugee communities. The percentage of foreign-born residents in Minnesota has risen faster than the national average since 2000 (46.4 to 35.7, respectively). Most strikingly, in the early 2000s, Minnesota ranked second in the nation in the percentage of refugees living in the state, trailing only California. Today, the second largest Hmong community and the largest Somali community in the United States call Minnesota home. The number of African immigrants in the state grew by 620% in the 1990s, and the number of immigrants from Latin America grew by 577%. From 2000-2010, Latinx accounted for 60.7% of the population growth in the Midwest and 27.8% of growth in Minnesota.
In addition to being home to these three large communities, Minnesota’s immigrants and refugees represent a remarkable diversity, with more than 230 languages spoken in the homes of Minnesota students. In addition, Minnesota is home to particularly robust economic sectors that have historically depended upon immigrant labor, such as meatpacking, agriculture, and healthcare; some of the very industries that have been deemed “essential” during the current pandemic. For many of these communities, this meant that, along with detention centers, their workplaces were often the center of COVID-19 outbreaks in the state. They also struggled to find adequate health care and childcare to allow them to provide for and protect their families. Often out of fear, many of these families chose to keep their students at home even though they often had fewer resources to help their children succeed in school.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, Minnesota has seen a spike in nativist rallying cries and xenophobia that echo much of what is happening in other states with large immigrant and refugee communities. These communities also became the target of misinformation campaigns about the pandemic and the importance of vaccinations. The individuals behind these campaigns took advantage of language barriers, mistrust in public authorities, and confusion about eligibility for care and vaccinations to discourage them from seeking help and get a vaccine.
These disparities in mortality and vaccination rates spurred many leaders of these communities into action. They organized information campaigns, provided translation assistance, and worked with local authorities to provide health care and vaccinations. Much of their work on lessening the impact of the pandemic on immigrant and refugee communities and guaranteeing vaccine equity and access to health care occurred as Minnesotans confronted the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd. The sources collected here explore one of the many facets of the impact of racial disparities in the state. They also show the importance of researching and documenting local as well as national stories of the pandemic.
Mannix, Andy. “Minnesota suspends U.S. citizenship-granting ceremonies in response to COVID-19.” Star Tribune, March 20, 2020. Minnesota’s court system has signed an order to stop all U.S. citizenship ceremonies for immigrants until at least May 8th to combat the spread of coronavirus.
Mannix, Andy. “As pandemic spreads, nonprofit is on a mission to clear out Twin Cities jails, one bail bond at a time.” Star Tribune, March 27, 2020. The Minnesota Freedom Fund and other bail activists have been working to post bonds for as many people in county jails and ICE detention as they can since the pandemic started. Jails and detention centers are dangerous breeding grounds for the virus and the people there are at high risk of having outbreaks.
Feshir, Riham. “COVID-19 adds another challenge to Minnesota’s Latino census response.” Sahan Journal, April 13, 2020. Because of COVID-19, groups around Minnesota have moved to virtual gatherings to help Latinos prepare for the 2020 census. This illness is another barrier on top of the fears many Latinos have of their immigration status being shared with federal officials, and confusion over how to properly mark down their race.
Peters, Joey. “Everything you need to know about benefits and relief programs available to Minnesota residents affected by COVID-19.” Sahan Journal, April 15, 2020. The Sahan Journal answers common questions about Minnesota COVID-19 assistance programs, including information on unemployment, stimulus checks, business support, and what undocumented Minnesotans can take advantage of. The article is also available in Hmong, Spanish, and Somali.
Rao, Maya. “COVID-19 poses special challenges for immigrants and their families.” Star Tribune, May 13, 2020. Undocumented immigrants, their families, and mixed-status families are struggling through the pandemic with little to no federal aid. Because they lack citizenship, they are not eligible to receive stimulus checks or other government relief. In Minnesota, advocacy groups have been raising money and stocking food shelves to help immigrants survive, as well as looking for any help their specific city may provide regardless of status.
Peters, Joey. “Federal judge rules ICE detainees will remain in Sherburne County Jail.” Shahan Journal, May 14, 2020. Almost two months after filing their petition, Judge Nancy E. Brasel denied the sixty-two ICE detainees in Sherburne County jail who asked to be moved to home monitoring, citing fears of coronavirus transmission within the jail. Sufficient evidence could not be found that the county and ICE were not providing adequate safety against COVID-19.
Rao, Maya. “Sherbune County jail detainees plan hunger strike for release because of COVID-19.” Star Tribune, May 26, 2020. Two months after sixty-two immigrants detained in Sherburne County jail had their petition on COVID-19 concerns rejected, over thirty detainees are now planning a hunger strike in protest. The strikers are hoping this makes the difference the petition could not.
Ansari, Hibah. “Minnesota health officials offer ‘no-barriers’ COVID-19 testing across state for immigrants, uninsured.” Sahan Journal, July 8, 2020. The Minnesota Department of Health, in partnership with community groups from around the state, is working to establish more “no-barriers” COVID-19 testing locations around Minnesota and spread the word that these mass testing events are open to everyone, regardless of immigration status or insurance coverage.
Burks, Megan. “Thousands of new Minnesotans could vote for the first time in the 2020 election. But the feds haven’t processed their citizenship applications.” Sahan Journal, August 19, 2020. In Minnesota, over 13,000 immigrants are waiting for U.S. citizenship approvals, which were delayed due to the pandemic. As wait times have doubled to as long as two years in the state, many of these immigrants who would have been able to vote in the election pre-pandemic will not get approved in time.
Labor and the Economy
Rao, Maya. “Minnesota’s African immigrants and refugees rally to overcome quarantine hardships.” Star Tribune, April 6, 2020. African immigrant and refugee business owners of Minnesota are coming together to support each other during the pandemic. They share information about keeping their businesses going and people – especially elders and disabled people – fed, while spreading COVID-19 related information to non-English speakers.
Cierzan, Natalie. “Minneapolis gap funding programs aim to provide assistance to all residents, regardless of immigration status.” Sahan Journal, April 8, 2020. Minneapolis has created a gap funding program that provides relief such as rental assistance and small business loans, regardless of immigration status. Many immigration advocates call for an extension of deadlines for filing immigration paperwork because of the impact COVID-19 has had on the system. The article refers to MPR coverage on immigrant communities, with Latino and Asian American community leaders appearing as hosts.
Yang, Hannah and Abdirahman Mohamed. “Immigrant families face complex challenges with Minnesota’s distance learning.” Sahan Journal, April 13, 2020. Minnesota’s immigrant communities are having increased difficulty with the transition to online learning during the pandemic. They are experiencing shortages of proper technology, a lack of education on new tech and ways of learning, and language barriers. Some call the inequalities between immigrant communities and others during this time “a civil rights issue.”
Cierzan, Natalie. “Immigrant micro-business owners band together to seek rent and mortgage relief.” Sahan Journal, April 27, 2020. As the pandemic slows down business, immigrant micro-business owners and advocates are calling for the Minnesota government to freeze rent and mortgage payments and provide more aid to small business owners.
Peters, Joey. “Worthington pork plant employees say tight working conditions, non-stop pace made COVID-19 outbreak inevitable.” Sahan Journal, April 28, 2020. The Worthington pork plant has temporarily shut down after at least 26 employees tested positive for coronavirus. Employees, many of which are immigrants, are saying that not enough safety precautions have been taken, and the few efforts that have been made were implemented much too late.
Regan, Sheila. “Despite the risks, essential retail workers often have little option but going to work.” Sahan Journal, May 18, 2020. More of Minnesota is opening up as the stay-at-home order ends, leaving immigrant communities and people of color at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19 because of their large role in essential work, despite the extra precautions that should be put in place in workplaces.
Hirsi, Ibrahim. “Amazon workers warned about COVID-19 risks at Minnesota warehouses. Workers kept getting infected.” Sahan Journal, June 24, 2020. Amazon centers around the state, which have been marked as essential businesses, are consistently having coronavirus outbreaks despite claiming they are following the necessary safety precautions. However, employees are speaking out, stating there’s no time nor enough space to follow social distancing guidelines. Many who have fallen sick have been African immigrants and refugees.
Peters, Joey. “‘We lost everything’: COVID-19 and Lake Street fires shut clinics in south Minneapolis immigrant neighborhoods.” Sahan Journal, June 29, 2020. The unrest on Lake Street in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, combined with the economic hit of the COVID-19 pandemic, has turned the largely immigrant area into “de facto health care deserts.” Small clinics that serve the immigrant populations are struggling to stay open after months of low business and the recent destruction of many of their locations.
Peters, Joey. “Sunday Mass is on YouTube and COVID-19 testing is free: Minneapolis-St. Paul Catholic archdiocese adapts in an age of pandemic.” Sahan Journal, August 19, 2020. Catholic churches in Minnesota have stepped up to help stop the spread of COVID-19 by holding most to all of their services virtually and partnering with the state to offer free testing to their minority and immigrant communities. Based on the nearly 400 free COVID-19 testing results at Incarnation, Minneapolis Health Department notes that while demographic data was not collected, “a closer analysis by surname...showed more than 20 percent of those with Hispanic last names tested positive for the virus” probably due to their roles as essential workers.
Carlson, Joe. “Minnesota’s farms and food industry face another pandemic growing season.” Star Tribune, March 28, 2021. Governor Tim Walz has created the Committee on Safety, Health, and Wellbeing of Agricultural and Food Processing Workers, whose task will be to coordinate how to vaccinate the state’s large immigrant food production workforce with the upcoming growing season. It has been challenging to get information to these workers on COVID-19 exposure, testing, and now vaccination due to language barriers and varying immigration status.
Health, Vaccines, and Equity
Peters, Joey. “Report from the front lines: A nursing assistant from Liberia describes working during the COVID-19 pandemic.” Sahan Journal, March 25, 2020. Medical professionals find themselves with a shortage of personal protective equipment, which leaves them at higher risk of contracting the virus. Immigrant communities, including 3,000-4,000 Liberian immigrants in Minnesota’s health industry, have also already been deemed at higher risk because of their fears of seeking healthcare and their lack of insurance coverage due to their immigration status.
Mannix, Andy. “In court petition, Minnesota ICE detainees plead for release before COVID-19 hits.” Star Tribune, March 27, 2020. Sixty-two ICE detainees in Sherburne County jail have petitioned to be released to home monitoring, citing fears over the transmission of COVID-19 due to overcrowding, inadequate medical care, and deaths of inmates in Europe. Advocates across the country have been calling for the release of nonviolent prisoners to slow the spread.
Peters, Joey. “Lawyers and ICE detainees, worried about the spread of COVID-19, sound alarm about conditions inside country jails.” Sahan Journal, March 27, 2020. Immigration advocates and detainees are becoming increasingly concerned about conditions inside the five jails in Minnesota that ICE works with. Sixty-two detainees have filed for release citing COVID-19 concerns, but officials say the jails take necessary safety precautions. Lawyers are also concerned about restrictions in seeing their clients.
Navratil, Liz and Maya Rao. “Minnesota seeks to help immigrant residents cope with COVID-19.” Star Tribune, April 3, 2020. Minnesota state government and local community organizations are processing the best ways to reach immigrant and non-English speaking communities about COVID-19 information and stay-at-home order, keeping in mind language, technology, literacy barriers, and geographic location. These communities are less likely to seek medical care and are more impacted by the effects of COVID-19. It quotes a state report on English proficiency on the economic status of Minnesotans.
Rao, Maya. “A large percentage of Minnesota COVID-19 patients don’t speak English.” Star Tribune, May 26, 2020. As coronavirus cases surge in the state’s immigrant and non-English speaking communities, healthcare facilities have had to employ more interpreters to translate medical care information. On top of calling in their interpreters working remotely, these healthcare facilities are also contracting out more interpreters who know less common languages and dialects.
Rao, Maya. “With COVID-19 surging, ‘cultural broker’ seeks to bridge the divide for Karen refugees.” Star Tribune, August 14, 2020. Lwepaw Kacher’s services as a cultural broker for Minnesota’s Karen population have become even more important during the pandemic. In this role, she helps Karen Americans and immigrants file for COVID-19 assistance, informs them of the severity of the illness, and assists them during and after hospitalization. M Health Fairview also offers these services for Black, Hmong, Latino, and American Indian communities.
Zerull, Julia. “U of M Establishes Resource Center for Refugees, Immigrants, and Migrants Amidst the Pandemic.” Mpls.St.Paul Magazine, December 2, 2020. To better understand and combat the way the pandemic has disproportionately affected immigrant communities, the University of Minnesota opened the National Resource Center for Refugees, Immigrants, and Migrants (NRC-RIM). The center will work with state and local health departments and organizations to effectively help these communities.
Peters, Joey. “New Minnesota COVID-19 hotline for immigrants and refugees answers questions in 13 languages.” Sahan Journal, December 24, 2020. The Refugee Resettlement Network, under the Department of Human Services, has created a hotline that immigrants and refugees can call to have questions about COVID-19 information and testing, assistance programs, and soon vaccinations answered in 13 different languages. They can also call on the weekends or after hours and leave messages.
Peters, Joey. “After the rush to develop a COVID vaccine, a big, new challenge: Getting people to take it.” Sahan Journal, December 14, 2020. Health officials in Minnesota are trying to figure out the best way to encourage immigrant communities in the state to get vaccinated, as distrust in the government and the vaccine are high. Some options include having community leaders or religious and cultural leaders disperse important information and guidance, or creating incentive programs with money and other needed resources.
Lichtsinn, Hannah, Calla Brown, and Kathleen Moccio. “Minnesota Is Obligated to Provide Adequate Health Care to People Who Are Incarcerated; Here’s Some First Steps.” Minnesota Reformer, January 19, 2021. ICE Office of Detention Oversight found various violations of Minnesota laws in Kandiyohi and Freeborn County jails, including “detention officers without medical training were completing the facility’s medical, dental and mental health screenings”; “interpreters were not used during medical evaluations of detainees with limited English proficiency”; and “detainees being given medical care or even psychotropic medications without consent”. Given such precedents of ICE detainees facing mass incarceration facilities in Minnesota, the writers call for two immediate steps to be taken: Timely and equitable vaccine access and an independent medical oversight mechanism. (Opinion)
Batia, Zach. “SEIU Local 26 member remembered for his humor and hard work.” Sahan Journal, January 26, 2021. Leo Escobar, an immigrant from El Salvador, died from COVID-19 this past fall. Remembered as a fun and loving husband, father, and brother, Escobar worked multiple jobs to give his family the best life he could. This is part of the Sahan Journal’s COVID-19 Memorial Project.
Peters, Joey. “A large COVID outbreak among ICE detainees appears to be over in Kandiyohi County. Advocates say other Minnesota jails are equally vulnerable.” Sahan Journal, January 29, 2021. Kandiyohi County Jail, which also houses ICE detainees, is nearly back to its normal after a two-month COVID-19 outbreak. Over forty detainees and twenty employees tested positive, starting in late November. Medical experts and legal advocates are arguing that substandard care is being offered at the facility, making another outbreak at this location and others around the state possible.
Peters, Joey. “Minnesota’s communities of color are suffering the most from COVID-19. Clinics that serve them are trying to get vaccines in arms – fast.” Sahan Journal, February 4, 2021. Minnesota’s community health centers that largely serve people of color below the poverty line are working to vaccinate the state’s minority and immigrant populations. Vaccination has proven to be difficult because of fear surrounding the vaccine and difficulty reaching people. However, through informing individuals and persistent calling, vaccination rates are going up.
Peters, Joey. “Getting to ‘yes’: Voices from inside immigrant communities are crucial to overcoming misinformation on COVID-19 vaccine.” Sahan Journal, February 16, 2021. The key to getting Minnesota’s immigrant communities vaccinated is supplying information from people of influence within the communities. Many immigrants are distrustful of the vaccine because of little or false information about it. Medical professionals and other prominent figures in the community can do a lot through simple, personal routes to lessen doubts.
Peters, Joey. “Everyone agrees people of color aren’t getting the COVID-19 vaccine fast enough. How bad the problem is, and what to do about it are less clear.” Sahan Journal, February 19, 2021. The Sahan Journal takes a look at how equitably Minnesota has distributed COVID-19 vaccines. Although the Minnesota Department of Health had not at this time released any race and ethnicity data, officials say the vaccine has not been available enough to the state’s most vulnerable communities.
Sahan Journal. “Introducing Sahan Journal’s COVID-19 vaccine video series: All the information you need in Spanish, Somali, Hmong, and English.” Sahan Journal, February 25, 2021. The Sahan Journal launched a video series to help Minnesota’s immigrant communities get vaccinated by answering common questions about the COVID-19 vaccine in Spanish, Hmong, Somali, and English.
Howatt, Glenn. “Minnesota to address racial and ethnic inequities in COVID-19 vaccinations.” Star Tribune, March 5, 2021. A report by the Star Tribune has found inequity in the distribution of vaccines in Minnesota. 82% of Minnesota residents identify as white, and they received over 90% of available COVID-19 vaccines. Black residents make up 6% of Minnesota’s population, and have received 3.5% of available vaccines. Asian residents comprise 5% of the demography and have received 3%, while Hispanic residents comprise 5% and have received less than 2%. No information about Indigenous populations in Minnesota.
Peters, Joey. “How to get a COVID-19 vaccine in Minneapolis, St. Paul, and anywhere in the Twin Cities.” Sahan Journal, March 9, 2021. The Sahan Journal provides answers to FAQs on vaccine eligibility, cost, the different vaccine options, where they are available, vaccine drives, and info for undocumented individuals. The site will be updated regularly.
Furst, Randy. “Federal Judge Michael Davis Dismisses ACLU-MN Suit over COVID-19 Conditions in Federal Women’s Prison in Waseca.” Star Tribune, March 11, 2021. American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota’s lawsuit over overcrowded conditions and mismanagement in federal women’s prison in Waseca, which led to 70% of its population contracting COVID-19, is dismissed on procedural grounds. ACLU state attorney noted that their “clients and others in prison who have underlying conditions and have not all been offered the vaccine remain at unnecessary risk while they are incarcerated.”
Peters, Joey. “When Undocumented Means Unvaccinated: Eligible Immigrants Run into Barriers Seeking COVID-19 Vaccine.” Sahan Journal, March 13, 2021. Even though the Minnesota government states, “You will never be asked about your immigration status when getting the COVID-19 vaccine,” many individuals in the Latinx community have described incidents where they were turned away from getting a vaccine after they could not provide a U.S. ID or healthcare providers questioned their immigration status. These incidences are a part of various barriers and discrimination that keeps people from getting vaccinated.
Peters, Joey. “COVID-19 spreads quickly. So does social media information – and misinformation – about vaccine availability.” Sahan Journal, March 17, 2021. Minnesota’s high-risk communities were confused when vaccination eligibility was shifted to include anyone 16+ living in specific zip code areas. The official news of this change in eligibility came from social media and not Allina health, where these special circumstance vaccinations were taking place. This caused many to question who is distributing this information and why are these important announcements not being broadcast by more official means.
Peters, Joey. “Minnesota meatpacking plants have discovered a secret to vaccinating undocumented workers: Don’t ask for IDs and personal information.” Sahan Journal, March 24, 2021. Minnesota has recently created more eligibility for the COVID-19 vaccine, putting meatpacking plant workers as a high priority. The state has found that the key to vaccinating this group, largely comprised of undocumented immigrants fearful of what the government will do with their information, is not leaving documentation of appointment details and not asking for IDs.
Editorial Board. “Our Best Shot: Communities of color face unique vaccination fears.” Star Tribune, April 3, 2021. Minnesota’s communities of color have been hesitant to get the vaccine for a number of reasons, including distrust in the government, lack of accessibility to the vaccine, and misinformation about the vaccine. The state is implementing initiatives to increase factual information and vaccination rates by partnering with religious figures and institutions. (Editorial)
Richert, Catharine. “Black nurse volunteers give shots to Minnesota's most vulnerable.” MPR News, April 6, 2021. MPR reports how nonprofits and other organizations such as Black Nurses Rock are working with Minnesota state and local government to vaccinate people “at higher risk of being exposed to and getting severely ill from COVID-19, and who face an array of hurdles in getting the vaccine — unreliable transportation, a lack of time, and for some, a justifiable distrust of medicine rooted in generations of systemic racism.”
Steiner, Andy. “Phone visits, health equity, vaccines: One physician recounts his pandemic year.” MinnPost, April 7, 2021. This interview with the co-founder of Minnesota Doctors for Health Equity shows how COVID-19 pandemic affected patients and healthcare workers at CUHCC. Apart from noting how the killing of George Floyd affected people’s physical and mental health and pushed the state to focus on equity and inclusion issues, Pham also discuss how earlier qualifications for priority vaccinations showed Minnesota “putting some health issues above socioeconomic status.” (Interview)
Anti-Asian Xenophobia & Racism
Pha, Kong Pheng. “Two Hate Notes: Deportations, COVID-19, and Xenophobia against Hmong Americans in the Midwest.” Journal of Asian American Studies, 3, 23 (October 3, 2020): 335–39. In Wisconsin and Minnesota, an individual and couple received racist and xenophobic notes addressed to them. These notes are tied to the Trump administration's negotiations with Laos over the deportation of Hmong Americans and the COVID-19 pandemic. The article also addresses ways in which to combat racism and xenophobia Asian-Americans face. (Journal article)
Carroll, Logan. “Asian American leaders in Minnesota condemn racism related to COVID-19.” Sahan Journal, October 16, 2020. The Minnesota Asian Pacific Caucus (MAP) has read a statement condemning the rise in xenophobic and racist actions and rhetoric during the pandemic. While the statement does not directly mention the Trump administration, it does provide examples of language that his administration has used. MAP has also worked to make sure resources are available to Asian Americans experiencing hate crimes.
Chhith, Alex, and Susan Du. “Activism on the rise in Minnesota’s diverse Asian American communities.” Star Tribune, March 24, 2021. Minnesota’s Asian American communities are coming together to share their stories and protest against anti-Asian hate after the murder of six Asian women in Atlanta. Anti-Asian hate and violence have increased dramatically during the pandemic. One Vietnamese Minnesotan woman has been using social media to find articles about anti-Asian hate translated into Vietnamese and other languages to warn immigrant parents.