The Morrison County Board of Commissioners will not be voting to allow refugee resettlement in the county.
An executive order issued by President Donald Trump in September 2019, asked state and local governments to provide written consent before refugees can be resettled in their locality. A vote on the matter is opt-in based. So, a county that chooses not to vote either way is saying “no” to refugee resettlement as much as a county who makes a point to vote “no,” like Beltrami County did recently.
“We have never, to my knowledge, based upon what I found at DHS, been requested to initially settle any refugee in Morrison County, nor have we been recently requested by one of the agencies that do this work to settle. So it’s a non-issue, it’s a non-Morrison County issue,” said County Administrator Deb Gruber.
She said the decision Beltrami County made to vote no, and Morrison County’s decision to do nothing has the same result.
The Board confirmed that by not taking a vote, they are saying they aren’t open to accepting refugee resettlement requests in the future. However, Commissioner Randy Winscher reminded members that it’s only for initial settlement, and there are no barriers for refugees to relocate in Morrison County.
In the executive order, Trump states that one purpose for the opt-in requirement is that local governments are generally best aware of the resources and environment they could provide, ultimately helping refugees to become self sufficient.
“Close cooperation with the state and local governments ensures that refugees are resettled in communities that are eager and equipped to support their successful integration into American society and the labor force,” the order said.
As of Jan. 16, 38 states, including Minnesota and neighboring states, have submitted letters of consent to the U.S. Department of State. However, a total of 42 states have announced that they’ll be filing to consent.
Last week, Texas was the first state to decline refugee resettlement, although two of the state’s counties have submitted letters of approval.
States have until Jan. 21 to submit a letter of consent for refugee resettlement, and resettlement agencies have until the end of the month to submit placement strategies to the U.S. Department of State.
The decisions will go into effect June 1, when only consenting counties will receive refugees.
When Gov. Tim Walz submitted the letter of consent for Minnesota Dec. 13, 2019, he wrote in detail how refugees benefit the state.
“Refugees strengthen our communities. Bringing new cultures and fresh perspectives, they contribute to the social fabric of our state. Opening businesses and supporting existing ones, they are critical to the success of our economy,” he said. “As the holiday season approaches, we are reminded of the importance of welcoming all who seek shelter. The inn is not full in Minnesota.”
Kandiyohi County is the only locality in the state thus far to submit a consent letter.
Refugee intake numbers for the state of Minnesota have decreased rapidly in the past five years, with 2,166 refugees resettled in 2015, compared to 848 in 2019, according to the Department of Human Services (DHS).
Refugees in Minnesota pay more than $227 million in state and local taxes, plus they have a combined spending power of $1.8 billion, according to the DHS.
In a release to Minnesota counties by the DHS, Rachele King, state refugee coordinator provided some details on the matter.
Minnesota only uses federal dollars for refugee services, and no state funding, she wrote. The DHS receives around $5 million for services including: employment, academic success, health screenings, cultural orientation and citizenship assistance.
These services are available up to five years after a refugee arrives in the U.S. But, many initial services are provided from 30 days up to eight months after arrival, when refugees will then be referred to other programs if needed.
Many resettlement programs push to have refugees employed and on other self supporting programs after one year of resettlement, according to the DHS. Refugees are given authorization to work as a permanent resident upon their arrival.
If a refugee relocates to a non-consenting county in the state, federal funding programs will not follow them.
The Department of Homeland Security describes refugees as people who are forced to leave their home country due to fear of violence or persecution based on race, religion, nationality, political affiliation or other forms of discrimination. These people are unable to return to their home country as their governments are unable or unwilling to protect them.
Before refugees are granted entrance into the U.S. they undergo intense vetting by eight federal agencies including background and security checks, in person interview, health screenings and more.
The Trump administration decreased the number of refugees allowed in the U.S. in 2020 to 18,000, the lowest it’s been in decades. In 2019, the refugee cap was 30,000, and in 2016 it was 110,000.