Update on States’ Consents to Refugee Resettlement

President Trump on September 28 issued an executive order requiring state and local governments to provide written consents to refugee resettlements for Fiscal 2020. Thereafter, as previously noted in this blog, at least three states—Utah, North Dakota and Minnesota– provided such  consents with at least three North Dakota counties, one Minnesota county and the City of Minneapolis doing the same.[1]

Here are some updates on this subject while we await until the January 31, 2020, deadline for consenting to see what other states and localities do in response to this challenge.

Evangelical Support for Refugee Resettlement[2]

In the meantime, we have learned that two evangelical nonprofit supporters of U.S. immigration—World Relief and the Evangelical Immigration Table—have been urging U.S. States to consent to resettlement of refugees in Fiscal 2020 (October 1, 2019—September 30, 2020).  This effort is directed at the governors of the following 15 states: Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin.

The World Relief president, Scott Arbeiter, said, “After being forced to leave their countries to escape war, persecution or natural disaster and being legally allowed entry to the U.S., the last thing refugees should have to experience is being denied access to communities in which they wish to dwell. Halting the resettlement of refugees to states will disrupt families and could lead to the end of vital ministries by local churches.”

Consents by Arizona State and Local Governments[3]

On December 6, the Republican Governor of Arizona, Doug Ducey, sent a letter of consent to Secretary of State Michael Pompeo. The letter stated, in part, “Throughout our nation’s history, the United States has been a refuge for individuals fleeing religious and political persecution in their homeland, and Arizona has historically been one of the most welcoming states in terms of the number of refugees resettled here.”

This action was applauded by Arizona’s State House Speaker Rusty Bowers: “Our state is one that offers opportunity for all. We welcome people from all backgrounds, religions, and cultures to come here and share in that special spirit. I applaud Governor Ducey for affirming that Arizona will continue to welcome religious and politically-persecuted refugees who have been vetted through the State Department’s Reception and Placement Program.” Similar messages came from Stanford Prescott, Arizona’s community engagement coordinator of the International Rescue Committee, and from Arizona’s Surge Network of evangelical churches.

On December 11, Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego added her city’s consent, telling Secretary Pompeo, “”The refugee resettlement program has a long and important history” in Phoenix; “these individuals have made invaluable contributions to our community and economy, opening businesses, creating community, and bringing greater diversity to the nation’s fifth largest city.” The same day this city’s county (Maricopa) did likewise. Previously other local Arizona authorities had provided their consents–Pima County and Tucson.

Other States Providing Consents[4]

The consent column also has been joined by the states of  Kansas, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Washington with Democratic governors and New Hampshire with a Republican governor.

Texas’ Republican Governor  Greg Abbott has not yet offered his decision on this issue, despite pleas from Texas evangelicals and the mayor of Fort Worth to continue accepting refugees.

Conclusion

Now there are at least nine states that have provided written consents to the resettlement of refugees for Fiscal 2020, while so far no state has declined to consent. This blog approves of these actions.

Rather surprisingly there is no readily identifiable website with an ongoing national tally of those categories. (If any reader knows of such a website, please identify it in a comment to this post.) There also is some confusion from the various articles about the deadline for submission of such consents to the Department of State and the period of time to be covered by such consents. (Comments with clarification on these issues are also welcome.)

All of this activity and confusion about the U.S. new lower quota for refugee admissions and the new requirement for state and local governments’ consenting to such resettlements are causing great uncertainties and challenges for the refugee resettlement agencies throughout the U.S.

One of those in Minnesota (International Institute of Minnesota) this year is celebrating its centennial of helping refugees and other immigrants with English classes, job training and other supports. One of its celebratory events last week was hosting a ceremony for the naturalization of new U.S. citizens. Welcoming them was U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Robert Kressel, who said, “Becoming an American does not mean renouncing your love for the land where you were born or forgetting your native language and the songs and dances you learned as a child. As a U.S. citizen, you are free to follow your own path wherever it takes you.”[5]

All of this is happening while the U.N. is calling for all nations to increase their acceptance of the escalating numbers of forcibly displaced people, now over 70.8 million, 25.9 million of whom are refugees.[6]

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[1]  See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: U.S. Sets 18,000 Quota for New Refugee Admissions to U.S. for Fiscal 2020 (Nov. 4, 2019; U.S. Senators Oppose U.S.Reduction in Refugee Admissions for Fiscal 2020 (Nov. 11, 2019);Latest U.S. Struggle Over Refugees (Dec. 11, 2019); Minnesota and Minneapolis Say “Yes” to Refugees (Dec. 14, 2019).

[2] Smith & Jordan, Trump Said Local Officials Could Block Refugees. So Far, they Haven’t, N.Y. Times (Dec. 9, 2019); World Relief, Press Release: World Relief and the Evangelical Immigration Table Urge Governors in 15 States To Accept Refugees (Dec. 11, 2019).

[3] See n.2 supra; Gonzalez, Arizona will continue to resettle refugees, Gov. Doug Ducey tells Trump administration, azcentral (Dec. 6, 2019); Gonzalez, Phoenix, Maricopa County tell Trump administration they will keep accepting refugees, azcentral (Dec. 11, 2019); Resnik, Arizona leaders tell Trump they will welcome refugees. That doesn’t mean we’ll see more of them, 12News (Dec. 15, 2019).

[4] Macchi, More US States Welcome Refugees Under New Trump Rule, Voice of America (Dec. 6, 2019).

[5]  Rao, Refugee Center’s Future in Flux at 100, StarTribune (Dec. 16, 2019).

[6] UNHCR, International community must do ‘far more’ to shoulder responsibility for refugees, says UN chief (Dec. 17, 2019); UNHCR, Global Refugee Forum (Dec. 17-18, 2019); Assoc. Press, UN Urges ‘Reboot of Refugee Response as Millions Uprooted, N,Y. Times (Dec. 17, 2019).

 

Minnesota and Minneapolis Say “Yes” to Refugees   

As noted in a prior post, President Trump on September 28 issued an executive order requiring state and local governments to provide written consents to refugee resettlements for Fiscal 2020 and the States of Utah and North Dakota thereafter provided such  consents with three of the latter’s counties doing the same. We now await until the January 31, 2020 deadline to see what other states and localities do in response to this challenge.

Now the State of Minnesota and its City of Minneapolis have joined the affirmative choir.[1]

State of Minnesota

Minnesota Governor Tim Walz’s December 13 letter to Secretary of State Michael Pompeo stated, “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. In keeping with this proud history, I offer my consent to continue refugee resettlement in the State of Minnesota.”

“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. Refugees are doctors and bus drivers. They are entrepreneurs and police officers. They are students and teachers. They are our neighbors.” (Emphasis in original.)

The letter concluded, “I reject the intent of the President’s Executive Order on Enhancing State and Local Involvement in Refugee Resettlement, and we reserve our right to challenge the Executive Order’s requirements. As the Holiday Season approaches, we are reminded of the importance of welcoming all who seek shelter. The inn is not full in Minnesota.” (Emphasis added,)

The concluding sentence—“the Inn is not full in Minneapolis”—invoked the Biblical story of Mary and Joseph’s discovering that the inns in Bethlehem were full and having to stay in a manger. The sentence also is seen as a retort to Prsdient Trump’s declaration on the U.S.-Mexico border last April that the U.S. immigration system is overburdened and that “our country is full” and to Trump’s October campaign rally in Minneapolis when he criticized Minnesota’s acceptance of Somali refugees.

City of Minneapolis

Also on December 13, the Minneapolis City Council unanimously adopted a resolution noting that “the state of Minnesota and the city of Minneapolis are home to some of the largest and most diverse populations of refugees and immigrants in the United States, adding to the economic strength and cultural richness of our community.” This document then resolved that “the Mayor and City Council do hereby reaffirm the City’s status as a Welcoming City, and a city that strongly supports resettling refugees without regard to race, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, nationality, or country of origin.” In addition, the “City of Minneapolis hereby pledges to continue to work diligently with resettlement organizations to accept refugees into the City and to improve refugee integration.” The final paragraph of the resolution directed “the City Clerk to send certified copies of this resolution to the President of the United States and the members of the federal delegation representing the State of Minnesota to the United States Congress to express the City’s strong support for the ongoing resettlement of refugees.”

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey is expected to approve this resolution.

Other Minnesota Commentary

The State’s largest counties—Hennepin (Minneapolis) and Ramsey (St. Paul)—are expected to issue similar consents.

Also on December 13, the State’s Attorney General—Keith Ellison– joined a 12-state court amicus brief backing three refugee resettlement organizations that have sued the Trump administration over the president’s executive order requiring state and local consent to such resettlements. The states argue that the order violates federal law, interferes with state sovereignty, “undermines family reunification efforts, and disrupts the states’ abilities to deliver essential resources that help refugees contribute to the communities that welcome them.” According to Ellison, “Minnesotans want everyone to live with the same dignity and respect that they want for themselves. This includes the many refugees we have resettled here, who have given back many times over to the state, communities, and neighbors that have welcomed them. I’m challenging the President’s order on behalf of the people of Minnesota because it is illegal and immoral.”

A newspaper from western Minnesota— Alexandria Echo Press,  added, “The Minnesota Department of Human Services reports that 775 refugees have been placed in Minnesota in 2019, down significantly compared to previous years. And of those placed, the bulk of the refugees came from Myanmar and the Democratic Republic of Congo” plus 69 from Ukraine and 67 from Somalia.

A longer-term perspective was provided by the Pioneer Press from St. Paul. It said, “Minnesota has the country’s largest Somali and Karen populations, the second-largest Hmong population and one of the largest Liberian populations — all made up of people who fled their war-torn homelands as well as their descendants. According to State Department data, Minnesota ranks sixth in the country for refugee arrivals since 2001, accepting over 43,000 individuals.”

Conclusion

Congratulations to the State of Minnesota and the City of Minneapolis for standing up for resettlement of refugees, each of whom already has established overseas to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees that he or she, “owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.”[2]

On December 17, this Minnesota action was endorsed in an editorial in the state’s leading newspaper, the StarTribune. It applauded “Gov. Tim Walz . . . for his forceful declaration of Minnesota values in his letter to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.”  The editorial also noted, “Minnesota has a proud tradition of welcoming immigrants — particularly refugees,” who “have proved, overall, a bountiful investment.”[3]

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[1] Office of MN Governor, Governor Walz to Trump Administration: ‘The Inn is Not Full in Minnesota,’ (Dec. 13, 2019); Assoc. Press, Governor on Refugees: ‘The Inn Is Not Full in Minnesota,’ N.Y. Times (Dec. 13, 2019); Montemayor, Gov. Tim Walz to Trump on refugees: ‘The inn is not full in Minnesota,’ StarTribune (Dec. 13, 2019);

Minneapolis City Council, Resolution Supporting the resettlement of refugees in the City of Minneapolis (Dec. 13, 2019); Minnesota Attorney General, Attorney General Ellison defends refugees against President Trump’s unlawful executive order (Dec. 13, 2019); Ferguson, ‘The inn is not full’: Walz approves additional refugee placements in Minnesota, Alexandria Echo Press (Dec. 13, 2019); Magan, ‘The inn is not full’—Walz pledges support for refugees as MN joins lawsuit, Pioneer Press (Dec. 13, 2019).

[2] UNHCR, Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees (entered into force April 22, 1954  (Art. 1(A)(2).

[3] Editorial, Minnesota’s doors, hearts remain open to refugees, StarTribune (Dec. 17, 2019)