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Human rights issues on agenda

The Moorhead Human Rights Commission plans to ask the Moorhead City Council for two things on Monday: an ordinance establishing a domestic partnership registry and another that would bar police officers from essentially becoming deputized immigra...

The Moorhead Human Rights Commission plans to ask the Moorhead City Council for two things on Monday: an ordinance establishing a domestic partnership registry and another that would bar police officers from essentially becoming deputized immigration agents.

Both topics are on the city council's agenda, though the board is not expected to take action on either issue Monday.

The domestic partnership registry would recognize a concept of family that includes relationships between two non-married, adult partners who are committed to one another to the same extent as married persons are "except for the traditional marital status and solemnities," according to information released by the Human Rights Commission.

An ordinance proposed by the Human Rights Commission is similar to one enacted last year in Duluth, Minn., said Octavio Gomez, chairman of the commission.

Gomez said the ordinance would be symbolic and would not require businesses or other private groups to change anything they are doing now.


But he said a registry could help individuals whose employers recognize domestic partnerships for benefit purposes.

In Duluth, about two dozen couples have signed up for the domestic partnership registry established in that city in early 2009, said Martha Oswald, assistant Duluth city clerk.

Oswald said signing up is simple.

People fill out a form, and after three days they are sent a certificate.

Oswald said some people inquire whether being on the registry grants them a degree of authority, like the ability to make medical decisions for a partner who falls ill.

When people are told it does not, they usually sign up anyway, Oswald said.

A matter of trust

On the issue of local police enforcing immigration rules, the Moorhead Human Rights Commission has penned a letter to the City Council asking for an ordinance stating that Moorhead will not take part in a federal program that enlists local police in helping to enforce federal laws, including immigration rules.


Gomez said several local community action groups have joined to form the Collaborative for Strengthening Trust With Law Enforcement and members have met with police and sheriff officials in Moorhead, Fargo and West Fargo.

The goal: to clear up ambiguity regarding when agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, are called into local law enforcement situations, said Raul Fernandez, executive director of Centro Cultural in Moorhead, a coalition member.

"How is it that ICE can get involved in a traffic stop? Or a loud party?" Fernandez said.

Gomez said police do not routinely ask people whether they have filed their federal tax returns, and he said there's no reason individuals should be questioned by police about their residency status, either.

Gomez said Moorhead police officials say they have an informal policy of focusing enforcement on state and local laws and not federal laws, including immigration regulations.

Formalizing the policy would promote trust between immigrant communities and law enforcement, Gomez said.

According to the letter the Human Rights Commission sent to the City Council, lack of trust can lead to serious issues, such as victims and witnesses of crimes being less likely to report them.

Moorhead Police Chief David Ebinger said he and other local police officials are not interested in formal agreements with the federal government when it comes to enforcing federal rules.


On the other hand, they also are not interested in rules that would bar officers from making inquiries about residency status because there may be times when that becomes necessary, Ebinger said.

If a Moorhead officer has no reason to detain someone, they won't, even if they suspect the person's immigration status is undocumented, Ebinger said.

"They turn them loose. We're not going to hold people for ICE," Ebinger said.

He said the situation may change if someone is taken into custody on suspicion of a crime and it later becomes apparent they are undocumented.

"Sometimes you get into a gray area, but we are not interested in enforcing immigration laws. We don't have the authority, and we're not interested in getting the authority," Ebinger said.

Monday's council meeting starts at 5:30 p.m. at Moorhead City Hall.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555

I'm a reporter and a photographer and sometimes I create videos to go with my stories.

I graduated from Minnesota State University Moorhead and in my time with The Forum I have covered a number of beats, from cops and courts to business and education.

I've also written about UFOs, ghosts, dinosaur bones and the planet Pluto.

You may reach me by phone at 701-241-5555, or by email at dolson@forumcomm.com.
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