Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN-05) accused Beltrami County of “denying refugees a chance at a better life” after it voted to opt out of refugee resettlement.
The Beltrami County Board of Commissioners passed a motion in a 3-2 vote Tuesday night to refuse refugee resettlement. The vote makes Beltrami County, which includes the city of Bemidji, the first county in Minnesota to reject refugee resettlement and one of a handful of counties in the nation to do so.
Under a September executive order from President Donald Trump, refugee resettlement now requires the explicit consent of both the state and the county.
One Democratic leader threatened to withhold state aid from Beltrami County in response to the controversial vote, The Minnesota Sun reported.
“This is deeply disheartening. Minnesotans have a history of welcoming refugees with open arms. Now, Beltrami County is giving them a clenched fist,” Omar responded to the news. “I’m proud that my home county—Hennepin County—voted overwhelmingly to continue being a home for those fleeing oppression.”
This is deeply disheartening. Minnesotans have a history of welcoming refugees with open arms. Now, Beltrami is giving them a clenched fist.
I'm proud that my home county—Hennepin—voted overwhelmingly to continue being a home for those fleeing oppression. https://t.co/wr4EUhJ0hD
— Rep. Ilhan Omar (@Ilhan) January 8, 2020
In another Twitter thread, Omar said the president’s “hateful policies,” like his “Muslim ban” and “refugee cap,” have “already empowered Islamophobes.”
This president’s hateful policies like the Muslim ban and the refugee cap have already empowered Islamophobes. And it will only get worse as he pushes us closer to an endless, unnecessary war with Iran.
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) January 9, 2020
“Over 20 years ago, the state of Minnesota welcomed my family with open arms. I never would’ve had the opportunities that led me to Congress had I been rejected,” Omar said in another tweet. “What Beltrami County is doing is denying refugees a chance at a better life.”
Over 20 years ago, the state of Minnesota welcomed my family with open arms.
I never would’ve had the opportunities that led me to Congress had I been rejected.
What Beltrami County is doing is denying refugees a chance at a better life.https://t.co/cpp3PgBB7h
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) January 9, 2020
According to the Minnesota Department of Human Services, the state 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. He 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.”
Gov. Tim Walz sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in December offering Minnesota’s consent to continued participation in the refugee resettlement program.
“Minnesota has a strong moral tradition of welcoming those who seek refuge. Our state has always stepped forward to help those who are fleeing desperate situations and need a safe place to call home,” Walz said in his letter to Secretary Pompeo. “In keeping with this proud history, I offer my consent to continue refugee resettlement in the State of Minnesota.”
He concluded the letter by criticizing the executive order, saying Minnesota reserves the “right to challenge the executive order’s requirements.”
“I reject the intent of the President’s Executive Order on Enhancing State and Local Involvement in Refugee Resettlement,” said Walz. “As the holiday season approaches, we are reminded of the importance of welcoming all who seek shelter. The inn is not full in Minnesota.”
Trump’s executive order is currently being challenged in court in Maryland, which could effect how the order is implemented—if at all. Attorney General Keith Ellison announced that he has joined 12 other attorneys general in filing an amicus brief in support of the plaintiffs in the Maryland lawsuit.
Ellison called the president’s executive order “illegal and immoral” in a December statement.
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Anthony Gockowski is managing editor of The Minnesota Sun and The Ohio Star. Follow Anthony on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected].
Background Photo “Beltrami County Refugee Vote” by Lakeland PBS.