All of Minnesota’s 87 counties will soon have to take up the issue of refugee resettlement as a result of an executive order issued by President Donald Trump.
It’s a politically polarizing issue, especially in Minnesota, and one that the Association of Minnesota Counties discussed during its annual conference this week in St. Cloud.
“Each county board across the state will have to be considering the issue and deciding how to move forward,” said Julie Ring, executive director of the Association of Minnesota Counties. “It’s one of those issues that’s more complicated than it seems on the surface because we’re working with a lot of our local non-profits that are interested in refugee resettlement. But the county has to make this decision on behalf of all municipalities in their jurisdictions.”
A September 26 executive order from President Trump provides the U.S. Department of State and the Department of Health and Human Services with a December 25 deadline to “develop and implement a process to determine” whether states and localities both consent in writing to the resettlement of refugees. Resettlement agencies in Minnesota will then have until the end of January to submit their placement plans to the Department of State.
This has caused some confusion for local leaders, since there’s no clear date provided for when counties and states need to act. Stearns County Administrator Mike Williams told KNSI that the Board of Commissioners is waiting for more direction from the state before acting.
“We’re expecting that we are going to need to take some action, but with litigation and some questions about when we need to act, I just think we need those questions answered before we take it to a county board meeting,” he said.
The executive order is currently being challenged in court in Maryland, which could effect how the order is implemented—if at all.
According to the executive order, if a state or locality does not provide explicit consent, then refugees “should not be resettled” in those communities.
The Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners was the first (and so far only) county in the state to pass a resolution accepting more refugees. The board approved of the measure in a 3-2 vote on December 3.
Olmsted County reportedly plans to follow suit and officials with Ramsey County plan to take up the issue in January.
Gov. Tim Walz hasn’t taken any formal action on the issue yet, but a spokesperson from his office told the media that he will submit a letter consenting to continued refugee resettlement.
According to the Minnesota Department of Human Services, the state has accepted 775 refugees in 2019. Most came from Burma (362) and the Democratic Republic of Congo (145), followed by Ukraine (69) and Somalia (67).
President Trump has capped refugee resettlement at 18,000 nationally for fiscal year 2020. The president received applause when he mentioned the executive order during his October rally at the Target Center.
“I promise you as president I will give local communities greater say in refugee resettlement. In the Trump administration, we will always protect American families first and that has not been done in Minnesota,” he said. “You should be able to decide what is best for your own cities and your own neighborhoods.”
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