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).

 

Latest U.S. Struggle Over Refugees

On November 1, 2019, as discussed in an earlier post, President Trump set 18,000 as the quota for refugee admissions into the U.S. for Fiscal 2020 (October 1, 2019—September 30, 2020).

Executive Order for Local Consent

Previously, on September 28, President Trump issued an executive order requiring state and local governments to provide written consents to refugee resettlements for Fiscal 2020. [1] The stated purpose of this order sounded reasonable:

  • “In resettling refugees into American communities, it is the policy of the United States to cooperate and consult with State and local governments, to take into account the preferences of State governments, and to provide a pathway for refugees to become self-sufficient.  These policies support each other.  Close cooperation with 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.”

This statement of purpose, however, went on to say that this requirement was “to be respectful of those communities that may not be able to accommodate refugee resettlement.  State and local governments are best positioned to know the resources and capacities they may or may not have available to devote to sustainable resettlement, which maximizes the likelihood refugees placed in the area will become self-sufficient and free from long-term dependence on public assistance.” (Emphasis added.)

The Order then provided that “Within 90 days of the date of this order, the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Health and Human Services shall develop and implement a process to determine whether the State and locality both consent, in writing, to the resettlement of refugees within the State and locality.”

State and HHS Departments’ Comments

Presumably on or after September 28, the State Department stated the following: Pursuant to this Executive Order, “the Department of State will seek to ensure that newly-arrived refugees are placed in communities where the state and local governments have consented to receive them.  Close cooperation with 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 labor force.”[2]

However, research did not discover a State Department “policy to determine whether the State and locality both consent, in writing, to the resettlement of refugees within the State and locality.” Nor did research uncover anything from HHS or its Office of Refugee Resettlement on this subject or on any deadline for providing such written consent although one of the secondary sources cited in this post said that January 31 was the deadline.

State and Local Governments’ Responses

Another failure of research: no comprehensive list of state and local governments that to date have consented and not consented to resettlement.

Instead, there have been articles about the State of Utah welcoming resettled refugees. The state’s leading religious faith, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, supported this decision. It said that the Church has ““great concern and compassion” for people around the world “who have fled their homes seeking relief from violence, war, or religious persecution.” It added, “As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we are deeply committed to living the two great commandments to love God and love our neighbor. We feel tremendous joy in helping all of God’s children, no matter where they may live in this world.”[3]

Another state granting consent was North Dakota. Its Republican Governor, Doug Burgum, on November 19, sent a letter to Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, saying, “North Dakota has had success at integrating refugees who have become responsible citizens and productive members of the workforce. Therefore, with ongoing diligence, North Dakota consents to receive resettlement of refugees, in conjunction with the continued assent and cooperation of local jurisdiction in our state.”[4]

This state consent then led to speculation that at least one county in the state, the one including the state capital of Bismarck, would not so consent. But on December 9 that county’s commission voted, 3-2 to continue accepting up to 25 new refugees after four-hours of impassioned testimony from residents. Governor Burgum said in the midst of this local debate that he had ““serious concerns that denying resettlement to a handful of well-vetted and often family-connected refugees would send a negative signal beyond our borders at a time when North Dakota is facing a severe workforce shortage and trying to attract capital and talent to our state.” Moreover, at least two other counties in the state have also consented.[5]

The State of Minnesota has not yet registered its position on this issue although a trusted source said that the State would consent and that it was drafting such a positive response with reasons why such resettlements would be good for Minnesota. In the meantime, some local authorities in the stata were having difficulties in deciding whether or not to consent. The largest city (Willmar) of the western county of Kandiyohi has foreign-born residents constituting 15.8% of its population, and its county board voted 3-2 to accept refugees. The Director of Refugee Services at the International Institute of Minnesota, Micaela Schuneman, observed that new arrivals were vital to the state’s economic growth and to bring families together. “Every time there’s a new hurdle to go through, it’s just more time that families are apart and that people are not being able to start their life in the United States.” [6]

Conclusion

The statement of the North Dakota Governor should be applauded and discussed in other states and counties considering whether or not to consent. Many states have aging and declining population and labor shortages. Therefore, they need immigrants, especially in rural areas.[7]

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[1] White House, Executive Order on Enhancing State and Local Involvement in Refugee Resettlement (Sept. 28, 2019).

[2] State Dep’t, Report to Congress on Proposed Refugee Admissions for FY 2020; State Dep’t, Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Placement: Reception and Placement.

[3] Witte, Trump gave states the power to ban refugees. Conservative Utah wants more of them, Wash. Post (Dec. 2, 2019); Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, First Presidency Releases Statement on Refugees (Dec. 2, 2019); Assoc. Press, Latter-Day Saints Leaders Reaffirm Support for Refugees, N.Y. Times (Dec. 9, 2019).

[4] Letter, Governor Burgum to Secretary Pompeo (Nov. 19, 2019).

[5] Assoc. Press, North Dakota County May Become US’s 1st to Bar New Refugees, N.Y. Times (Dec.8, 2019); Farzan, A North Dakota county was poised to be first to bar refugees under Trump’s executive order. Residents said no, Wash. Post (Dec. 10, 2019); Assoc. Press, North Dakota County Votes to Take Limited Number of Refugees, N.Y. Times (Dec. 9, 2019); Gebelhoff, A pro-Trump county rebuked the president. It deserves our gratitude, Wash. Post (Dec. 12, 2019).

[6] Rao, Local approval for refugee resettlement sparks heated debate in Minnesota counties, StarTribune (Dec. 8, 2019).

[7] Kelly, Letter to Editor: Refugees are critical to our economic and cultural success, Wash. Post (Dec. 8, 2019). See also, e.g., these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: More Warnings of the Problems Facing U.S. Aging, Declining Population (Aug. 14, 2019); Another Report About U.S. Need for More Immigrants (Aug. 25, 2019); Minnesota’s Challenges of Declining, Aging Population (Oct. 2, 2019); Worthington’s Mayor Defends City (Oct. 3, 2019); Prominent Economist Says Cuts in U.S. Immigration Threaten U.S. Economy and Innovation (Oct. 12, 2019).