County Manager Column from April 21, 2020

This column was originally published as a "From the County Manager" column on our employee intranet.

Ramsey County stands in support of our racial, ethnic and immigrant communities and staff in response to COVID-19​

This week I’m pleased to introduce this guest column by Policy & Planning Director Elizabeth Tolzmann. Thanks to Elizabeth and our other contributors (credited at the end of the article) for bringing together this timely and important message. If we are to truly become a community in which all are valued and thrive, we must continue to address issues of xenophobia, racism and “othering” as they arise, alongside focused and continued organizational actions to build an inclusive, cohesive community. - Ryan

Under the COVID-19 pandemic, Minnesota and Ramsey County are experiencing public health and economic crises with significant disparities which are negatively shaping the lives of many of our residents - especially racial and ethnic communities. While in theory a virus is indiscriminate regarding who it affects, the reality is that the ways in which a virus spreads, the severity of those it infects and the information that people have available to them to mitigate potential impacts means that historically marginalized communities are at a greater risk for contracting COVID-19.

The need to prioritize racial equity during the pandemic has become increasingly clear as we move further into our response to this crisis. More than ever, right now it’s important that we do not overlook or minimize the racial equity impacts on communities we serve each day. Data shows that disproportionate numbers of racial and ethnic communities are not screened due to the guidelines and access, have contracted COVID-19 and died from its complications. It’s critical that we prioritize and address these inequities immediately during this crisis.​

Standing in support against xenophobic and racist attacks on Asians

In addition to acknowledging the racial disparities and disparate impact of COVID-19 on our racial and ethnic communities, Ramsey County also recognizes the fears, biases and stereotypes the coronavirus has fueled, resulting in anti-Asian sentiment and violence across our nation and right here in Ramsey County. We have one of the most diverse populations in the state with 47% of our residents being from racial and ethnic backgrounds or American Indians. Nearly 80,000 of our 540,000 residents are foreign-born with more than 130 dialects spoken and nearly one-in-six children having at least one immigrant parent. Since the county’s founding in 1849, the rich fabric of our communities and our economic, cultural and civic prosperity would not be possible without immigrants from all over the world. 

It is our responsibility to stop the incorrect narratives caused by misinformation and to prevent bias, discrimination and violence through strong partnerships with community and leadership within our organization. With the largest racial and ethnic population in Ramsey County being Asian (13%), we stand in support of our Asian immigrants and refugees, and all racial and ethnic communities, staff members and their families who have suffered from xenophobia and racism. 

The Human Resources department reminds us of a longstanding non-discrimination policy that reinforces our commitment to racial equity and protecting the civil rights of employees and residents. A number of resources are available to all employees to provide support, ensure we keep our commitment to being an inclusive and non-discriminatory workplace, and help us meet the needs of the people we serve in our county.

Leadership in support of immigrants and refugees

Most recently, elected officials in Ramsey County and the city of Saint Paul, along with community stood in support of Asian Americans against racism during the COVID-19 pandemic by developing a joint video message. Prior to COVID-19, our Asian community was already experiencing fear, trauma and imminent family separation as a result of immigration enforcement officials targeting the southeast Asian community for deportation. Ramsey County leadership has historically and recently taken a strong stance in support of our immigrant and refugee communities. 

  • Public charge rule change response - On Aug. 14, 2018, the county board approved an ongoing investment of $100,000 annually to provide programmatic, ongoing support that promotes familial and community stability and civic engagement, and ensures families with a loved one going through deportation proceedings are connected to available county services. With these funds, we are in the process of awarding additional grants to local community organizations for education and awareness, outreach and engagement and connections to resources and referral. This is in response to a federal change in the public charge rule, southeast Asian deportation related to repatriation agreements, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and COVID-19 response. 
  • Vera Institute partnership - On Nov. 6, 2018, Ramsey County partnered with the city of Saint Paul and the Vera Institute’s SAFE (Safety and Fairness for Everyone) Cities Network to create a $250,000 immigration legal defense fund through which Ramsey County residents can seek legal representation to ensure due process in removal hearings and ensure that everyone is treated with basic fairness and dignity. The Ramsey County Attorney’s Office also has an in-house immigration attorney that advises the prosecution unit on collateral consequences of immigration. Further, we are partnering with the University of St. Thomas School of Law to house an immigration/criminal law attorney at the Immigration Law Center who is dedicated to advising Ramsey County residents on impacts of COVID-19, eligibility for stimulus checks, naturalization, public charge questions, post-conviction relief, and legal advice and referral on removal cases.

Support and resources for immigrants and staff members impacted

In addition to leadership support, Ramsey County has a variety of resources to support immigrants, community and staff members who are impacted by COVID-19, immigration issues and/or discrimination: 

As we work on supporting our immigrant and refugee communities, we need to be mindful and grounded in the historic fact that anti-immigrant racism is not new. What's happening now must also be understood in the context of our Black, American Indian, Jewish, Muslim and Latinx communities who are also experiencing xenophobia and racism. In accordance with Ramsey County’s racial equity policy, we must ensure that people have equitable access to county services during these dire times. Racial equity is achieved when race can no longer be used to predict life outcomes, and outcomes for all are improved.

Beginning this week, the COVID-19 Racial Equity and Community Engagement team weekly workplan documents will be posted each Monday at in the “Service delivery information” section. This provides transparent and timely information about our highly focused work in this area. We encourage you to have a look and check back often! 

I’d like to extend a note of thanks to these thoughtful contributors to this article:

  • Racial and Health Equity Administrator Sara Hollie.
  • Senior Policy Analyst Lidiya Girma.
  • Diversity, Inclusion and Organizational Development Manager Maria Sarabia.
  • Senior Planning Specialist Amee Xiong.
  • Administrative Planning Assistant Sia Xiong.