Isabelle Wong is a University of Minnesota Post Secondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) student as well as a senior at Apple Valley High School, and leader in our YEA! Campaigns program. Isabelle continues her activism as the Logistics director of MN Youth for Climate Justice and District 2’s representative on the MN Youth Council.
According to the Guardian, the climate crisis may create 150 million climate refugees by 2050. And we can already see the beginnings of it.
In December of 2019, more than 300,000 people were displaced by a huge flood in Jakarta, Indonesia. Earlier that year, CNN reported that the Indonesian government planned to move the capital from Jakarta which is one of the fastest sinking cities in the world to Borneo. As an Asian American with family overseas, it’s scary to know they might be affected. When researching popular places to escape the effects of climate-related natural disasters, Minneapolis and St. Paul are ranked among the highest. Not only will the weather stay relatively calm but the Twin Cities are both “sanctuary cities.”
A sanctuary city could have a different meaning in varying locations but in most cases, it means that those cities don’t use local law enforcement to assist in the detention of undocumented immigrants. In order to offer a more welcome place for the influx of climate refugees to come, my main goal as a YEA! Campaigns cohort leader is to turn my hometown, Apple Valley, into a sanctuary city. To become a sanctuary city, the Apple Valley City Council and Mayor Hoopaw would need to pass a resolution.
Before I create an ask of the Apple Valley City Council and Mayor Hoopaw, I’ve been focusing on educating myself first and foremost. Back in October, I started reaching out to leaders of immigrant issues in MN to learn more about the process of immigration and becoming a sanctuary city. One of the first people that I reached out to was St. Paul City Council member Nelsie Yang. We were able to touch on her personal experiences of being a climate refugee living in Minnesota and it was super interesting to learn how she is using her story to choose what policies to push for.
I was also able to connect with Erin Maye Quade who I briefly interned for back in freshman year. Because she used to work for Keith Elison as an immigration policy staffer, I learned about the structural issues of immigration as well as the economic benefits of being a sanctuary city. There were more people I talked to that helped fill in the gaps and I hope to put all this information together as evidence of the importance of sanctuary cities as well as the hardships climate refugees go through.
However, I’ve definitely struggled with a couple of things. One of the main struggles has been finding climate refugees willing to share their stories, whether because of safety issues or otherwise. The search has continued as these stories are impactful parts I want to include when talking to the city council and mayor. More than that, since most of my organizing, has been in the cities, I haven’t really gotten a chance to talk with the people in Apple Valley and learn their thoughts on these issues. This local action requires as much support as possible, especially from citizens of Apple Valley and surrounding cities.
The goal is to get this petition to at least 2,000 signatures by the end of April when I plan on presenting my case to the City Council and Mayor Hoopaw. This campaign has allowed me to grow as an organizer in so many ways and reminded me of the intersections within the issue of environmental/climate justice and other injustices.
Join me in making Apple Valley a Sanctuary City and ultimately promoting a more welcome atmosphere for all people as well as boosting the economy. Sign here!
If you or someone you know is a climate refugee and are comfortable being interviewed, please reach out! Contact me at isabelleswong [at] gmail [dot] com for more information on the issue and interviews.