Court: Trump’s Illegal Consent Procedure for Refugee Resettlement

As discussed in a prior post, on September 28, 2019, President Trump issued an executive order requiring written consents by states and local governments for the federal government’s resettlement of refugees, and other posts have discussed the issuance to date of such consents by at least 40 states.[1]

On January 15, however, the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland preliminarily ruled that this executive order was invalid and ordered that its enforcement be temporarily halted.[2]

The Court’s Opinion

The court’s opinion on this issue occurred in a civil lawsuit for preliminary and final injunctive relief against this executive order that was brought by three nonprofit refugee resettlement agencies—HIJAS, Inc., Church World Service, Inc. and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service [3]—and in the court’s justification for its granting their motion for a preliminary injunction barring enforcement of this executive order while the case proceeds to final judgment.

The court concluded that the well-established principles for preliminary injunction had been established: (1) “the plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits;” (2) “they will suffer irreparable harm that is neither remote nor speculative, but actual and imminent if the injunction is not granted;” (3) “the balance of equities favor their position;” and (4) “the relief they seek is in the public interest.” (Memorandum Opinion at 16.) The key issues for the current legitimate public attention to this case are the court’s opinion on the merits and the public interest.

After a careful analysis, the court concluded that the executive order’s “grant of veto power [to state and local governments] over the resettlement of refugees within their borders ”is arbitrary and capricious . . . as well as inherently susceptible to hidden bias” and is “unlawful” based upon “statutory text and structure, purpose, legislative purpose, judicial holdings, executive practice, the existence of a serious constitutional concern over federal preemption, and numerous arbitrary and capricious administrative deficiencies.” (Memorandum Opinion at 17-27.)

The court also concluded that a preliminary injunction against the President’s executive order was in the public interest by “keeping ‘the President from slipping the boundaries of statutory policy and acting based on irrelevant policy preferences,’. . . having governmental agencies abide by federal laws that govern their existence and operations, . . . [and preventing] States and Local Governments [from having] the power to veto where refugees may be resettled –in the face of clear statutory text and structure, purpose, Congressional intent, executive practice, judicial holdings, and Constitutional doctrine to the contrary.” (Memorandum Opinion at 30-31.)

Conclusion

The Federal Government has a right to appeal this decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, but has not expressed any intent to do so. In the meantime, officials in the U.S. State Department, state and local governments, the resettlement agencies and refugees themselves are confused about what to do next.

This case arbitrarily was assigned by the District Court’s Clerk to Senior District Judge Peter J. Messitte, who on August 6, 1993, was nominated by President Bill Clinton and on October 18, 1993, confirmed by the U.S. Senate; on September 1, 2008, he assumed senior status. Judge Messitte is a graduate the University of Chicago Law School, where he was a classmate of this blogger. His undergraduate degree is from Amherst College.[4]

===================================

[1] See Latest U.S. Struggle Over Refugees, dwkcommentaries.com (Dec. 11, 2019);   posts to dwkcommentaries.com. relating to refugee resettlement.

[2] Memorandum Opinion, HIJAS, Inc. v. Trump, Civil No. PJM 19-3346 (D. Md. Jan. 15, 2020); Order, Hias, Inc. v. Trump, Civil No. PJM 19-3346 (D. Md. Jan. 15, 2020); Marimow & Sacchetti, Federal judge temporarily halts Trump administration policy allowing local governments to block refugees, Wash. Post (Jan. 15, 2020); Assoc. Press, Judge Halts Trump’s Order Allowing States to Block Refugees, N.Y. Times (Jan. 15, 2020).

[3] The three plaintiff resettlement agencies are members of nine designated “’Resettlement Agencies’ that enter into annual agreements with the Federal Government to provide services to these refugees under the current [U.S.] resettlement program.” (Memorandum Opinion at 1.) The plaintiffs were supported by amici briefs from 12 states, including Minnesota; from the U.S. Conference of Mayors along with 11 mayors and cities, including Minneapolis; and various faith-based organizations with hundreds of affiliates throughout the U.S.  (Id. at 2 (n.2).)

The amici brief for the states asserted the following arguments: (I) The Executive Order Violates the Refugee Act and Interferes with the States’ Sovereign Interests;” (II) “The Refugee Resettlement Consent Process Harms the States’ Refugee Communities;” (III) “The Refugee Resettlement Consent Process Burdens the Staters’ Resources;” (A) Amici States Have Created Highly Effective Refugee Resettlement Systems;” (B) “The Executive Order’s Consent Process Burdens State Refugee Resettlement Programs.” (Brief of the States of California, et al. As Amici Curiae in Support of Plaintiffs’ Motion for Preliminary Injunction, Hias, Inc. v. Trump, Civil No. PJM 19-3346 (D. Md. Dec. 13, 2019).)

[4] Peter Jo Messitte, Wikipedia; U.S. Dist. Ct., Dist, Md, Peter J. Messitte.

 

Minnesota Counties’ Actions on Refugee Resettlement 

Of Minnesota’s 87 counties, 23 already have issued consents to future refugee resettlements while another 8 have indicated they will be considering the issue in the near future and only one has refused to so consent. There is little word from the other 56 counties in the state although there is no legal requirement for them to take a position on the issue since not voting is deemed to be a negative vote and although the state’s refugee resettlement agencies has not been soliciting those counties that have had little prior experience with such resettlements.

Here is a review of the 31 that so far have indicated some position on the issue of refugee resettlement.[1]

Counties Saying “Yes”

Blue Earth County. [2] On December 17 the board of south-central Blue Earth County (population 64,000 with its county seat in Mankato, population 39,300, and home of Minnesota State University Mankato) joined the consenting list. It did so unanimously with almost no discussion. One of the commissioners afterward said, “We’ve always accepted refugees. This is nothing new.”

Brown County.[3] In late December, County commissioners unanimously voted to consent to resettlement. Its virtually all white population of 25,890 live immediately west of  the just mentioned Blue Earth County and the later mentioned Nicollet County. Its county seat is New Ulm.

Clay County.[4] On December 17, County commissioners unanimously voted to resettlement. With a population of nearly 59,000 people, it abuts North Dakota with a county seat in Moorhead (population 38,000) and is home for four institutions of higher learning.

Cook County.[4a] On January 14, the County Board unanimously voted to accept more refugees. Its Chair, Myron Bursheim, said, “I see this as a symbolic thing. My intention is to be welcoming.”

Commissioner Dave Mills said he’d never received more email feedback on an issue in the North Shore county, all in support. “I see the issue from a practical and principled standpoint. I don’t think it’s going to directly affect our finances or operation. Out of principle, this is what our community values.” Commissioner Virginia Storlie added, “We would do the best we can with folks who need help.”

Cook is the northeastern tip of the state, colloquially called “the Arrowhead,” pointing at Canada on the beautiful North Shore of Lake Superior. Its population is 5,393 (White 85.0%; African American 1.0%; Native American 8.5%; Asian 0.9%; Latino 2.5%; other 2.1%),  and the county seat is charming Grand Marais.

Dakota County.[5]   An approval of consent on January 7 came from the board of  Dakota County, which has a population of 425,423  (77.7% white; 7.0% African-American; Latino 7.4%; Asian 5.2%; Native American 0.6%; and other 2.1%) in the south-eastern corner of the Twin Cities metro area with its county seat in Hastings.

Goodhue County.[6] On January 7, the Goodhue County Committee of the Whole, by a vote of 3-2, approved consenting to refugee resettlement. Although there was no time for public comment, there were many attendees, causing the meeting to be moved to the larger space of the courtroom. On the western banks of the Mississippi River, it has a population of 46,304 (White 91.8%; Latino 3.5%; Native American 1.5%, African-American 1.4%; Asian 0.7%; other 1.1% with its county seat in Red Wing.

Hennepin County.[7] On January 7, Hennepin with the city of Minneapolis is the state’s most populous county at 1.252 million (White 68.6%; African-American 13.6%; Asian 7.5%; Latino 7.0%; Native American 1.1%; Other 2.2%)in the central part of the state, by action of its County Board, approved consenting. Here are highlights of the “Whereas” paragraphs of its consent letter:

  • “Minnesota’s reputation for a strong economy and commitment to the social safety net has resulted in successful refugee resettlement since the 1800s.”
  • “Minnesota’s robust network of non-governmental resettlement agencies works with the federal government to resettle refugees, including resettlement in Hennepin County.”
  • “1,345 refugees have been resettled in Hennepin County over the last five years.”
  • “The breadth of countries and regions of origin resettling in Minnesota continues to expand and includes Afghanistan, Bhutan, Burma, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eastern Europe, El Salvador, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iran, Iraq, Laos, Russia, Somalia, Tanzania, and Vietnam.”
  • “The success of refugee resettlement in Hennepin County has helped affirm the county’s status as an urban center of international importance.”

Kandiyohi County. As noted in a prior post, on December 3, 2019, Kandiyohi County in western Minnesota was the first to consider this issue when it voted, 3-2 to consent to refugee resettlement.

Mower County.[8] In early January, the County commissioners unanimously voted to authorize consent. In the southeastern part of the state bordering Iowa, its county seat is Austin, famous as the headquarters for Hormel Foods. Its population is 40,011.

Murray County.[9] On January 7, the county commissioners authorized consent. Located in the southwest corner of the state with its county seat in Slayton, it has a population of 8,725 (93.8% white, 3.6% Latino. 1.1% Asian and 1.5% other.

Nicollet County.[10] This county is just north of the previously mentioned Blue Earth County and on the same date (December 17), also consented with a County Board vote of 4-1. One of the affirmative votes came from Commissioner Terry Morrow, who  said all refugees that arrive are thoroughly vetted by the federal government, confirming they are fleeing war, genocide or severe poverty while Commissioner Jack Kolars called refugees “‘new Americans,’ who follow in the footsteps of past groups of refugees and immigrants who often faced discrimination and persecution when they arrived and went on to be productive citizens. And he said current newcomers are working in the area in large dairy farms, shingling roofs and in food-processing plants. ‘In many cases they’re doing work others won’t do.’”

Nicollet County has a population of 34,200 (92.3% white; 3.7% African-American; 0.5% Native Americans and 3.5% other), and its county seat of St. Peter is the former capital of the state and the home of Gustavus Adolphus College.

Nobles County.[11] On January 7, the county commissioners authorized consent. Located in the southwest corner of the state and bordering Iowa and South Dakota, this county has a population of 21,900 (white 58.2%, Latino, 28.4%, Asian, 7.1%, , Other 0.1%)/African-American, 5.4%. Its county seat is Worthington, which recently has received a lot of attention due to its unusual ethnic diversity, as discussed on this blog.

Olmsted County.[12] On December 6, the County’s Administrative Committee unanimously approved a consent to resettlement. The County Board chair, Jim Bier said, “It’s stuff we are doing already.” A county official stated 30 new refugees already had been settled in the county in 2019 while an official for Catholic Charities of Southern Minnesota said that in 2018, 26 individual refugees came to Olmsted County from other countries. The county in the southeastern part of the state has a population of 144,200 (white, 85.6%; Asian, 5.4%; African-American, 4.8%’ and Latino, 4.2%. Its county seat is Rochester, which is famous for the Mayo Clinic.

Otter Tail County.[13] On December 16, the Commissioners voted to consent to resettlement. It is located in the west central part of the state on the continental divide with a population of 58,300 (white 97.1%; Latino, 1.7%; and other 1.2%; the county seat is Fergus Falls.

Pipestone County.[14] On January 7, this county joined others in consenting to resettlement. The county seat has the same name and the county’s population is 9,600 (white 96.7%; African-American 1.5%; Latino 0.7%; Native American 0.5%; other 0.6%. It borders South Dakota in the southwestern part of Minnesota.

Pope County.[15] On January 7, the County’s Board of Commissioners unanimously approved to consenting to resettle refugees. “While all board members agreed that they would be surprised if they were asked to host refugees, all of them were more than willing to approve an affirmative letter saying the county would accept refugees. ‘We should be ready to help,’ said Commissioner Larry Lindor.” After the item passed, Chair Gordy Wagner told his fellow board members, “I am proud of you all. Thank you.”

Located in the west-central part of the state with Glenwood as its county seat, Pope County’s population is 11,097 (White 95.9%; African-American 0.5%; Native American 0.4%; Asian 0.6%; Latino 1.5%; Other 1.1%).

Ramsey County.[15a] On January 14, the County’s Board unanimously approved consenting to refugee resettlement. The Board Chair, Toni Carter, said, “We recognize that refugees and foreign-born residents are an important part of Ramsey County. It’s important we honor and respect all who are among us.” Similar words came from Commissioner Trista MatasCastillo: “For me this is a celebration of our good work and the good work of our refugee communities. We have all benefited from having refugees in our community.” Another Commissioner, Victoria Reinhardt, said that, aside from Native Americans, nearly all Americans can trace their roots to immigration. “I am glad this country welcomed my German and Irish ancestors. That is what makes this place rich.”

The county, which includes the state’s capitol in St. Paul, accepted 4,215 refugees from 2015 to 2019. In the past year, the county accepted 71% of all refugees who initially settled in Minnesota. Moreover, avout 16% of its overall population of 508,639 is foreign-born.The composition of itsl population is White 61.4%; African American 12.6%; Native American 1.0%; Asian 15.3%; Latino 7.6%; Other 2.1%..

Rice County.[16] In early January, the County’s commissioners voted to authorize consent. Located in the southeastern part of the state with a county seat in Faribault, it has a population of 66,523 (White 89.0%; African-American 5.4%; Asian 2.1%; Native American 0.4%; Other 5.1%).

Sherburne County.[17] In December, the Commissioners for this County voted to issue consent. Located only – miles northwest of Minneapolis in the central part of the state, it has a population of 96,036  (white 90.9%; African-American 2.9%; Latino 2.9%; Asian 1.3%; Native American 0.6%; other 1.4%). The county seat is Elk River.

Steele County.[18] A consent letter was authorized by the County Board. Located in the southeastern part of the state, just south of Rice County, its county seat is Owatonna. Its population is 36,887 (White 90.9%; African-American 2.9%; Latino 2.7%; Asian 1.3%; Native American 0.6%; Other 1.6%.

Washington County. [18a] On January 14, the County’s Board unanimously approved consenting to resettlement at its meeting in the county seat of Stillwater. This county sits on the west bank of the St. Croix River across from the State of Wisconsin and east of Ramsey County and the City of St. Paul. Its population is 236,114 (White 82.2%; African American 4.9%; Native American 0.5%; Asian 6.2%; Latino 4.3%; other 1.9%).

Watonwan County.[19] On January 7, the County Board, apparently unanimously, approved a letter of consent to refugee resettlement. This county is located in the south central part of the state and south of the previously mentioned Brown County and west of Blue Earth County, and its county seat is St. James.  Its population is 10,980 (White 71.0%; African-American 1.3%; Native American 1.3%; Asian 1.2%; Latino 25.2%).

Future Consideration by Other Counties

 Lyon County.[20] On January 7, the Lyon County Board, after discussion, voted to postpone the vote on the merits.

Stearns County.[21] On January 7, the Board of Stearns County,  with its county seat of St. Cloud, 66 miles northwest of Minneapolis. But their vote was to postpone consideration of the merits.

Commissioner Steve Notch said he still had too many unanswered questions and wanted to hear from the public and other experts. He lamented equating humanitarian concerns with economic ones. Commissioner Joe Perske, on the other hand, said it was “imperative” that the county decide the issue immediately. “The question I hear today is, are we a welcoming community or not?”

It should also be noted that St. Cloud, the county seat and largest city in the country, over the last several years has had major controversies over the large number of Somali refugees and immigrants who have resettled there.

St. Louis County.[22] Also voting to postpone consideration of the merits on January 7 was the Board of St. Louis County, population 200,200 (white, 94.9%; Native American 2.0%; Black, 0.9%; and Other, 2.2%) in the northeastern part of the state with its county seat in Duluth (population 85,900 on the southwest tip of Lake Superior).

After a heated debate for 1.5 hours with a standing-room only crowd, the county board voted, 4-3, to postpone a vote on the merits until May 26.

The majority commissioners on that vote represented people on the Iron Range and more rural areas who said they wanted more time to consider the implications of allowing such resettlement while the minority represented Duluth and other cities in the county. The minority on that vote included religious and social justice leaders, local Northland politicians, former sponsors of refugees, and one Northland refugee whose family was from Serbia and who had lived his early life in an Austrian refugee camp.

Another commissioner representing the city of Hibbing (population 16,400) said refugees were still welcome in the county. “We closed no doors.”

Five Other Counties.[23] Becker, Dodge, Ramsey, Scott and Winona counties are expected to consider the resettlement issue in the near future.

County Saying “No”

Beltrami County.[24] So far this is the only county to reject such resettlements. It occurred on January 7, when the County Board In the north-central part of the state voted 3-2 to refuse to provide its consent. This county has a population of 44,442 (2010 census), 76.9 % of whom are white, 20.4% Native American, 0.4% black and 2.3% other. Its county seat is Bemidji (population 12,431).

One of the speakers favoring consent was a member of the Red Lake Nation, who said, “If you’re not a Native American from this area, we all have origin stories. I think most of the people here today are re-settlers. It just seems un-American to me to say that “You’re not welcome.” [25]

This vote was largely symbolic: This county has not resettled refugees for years and is not being targeted by refugee agencies for resettlement anytime soon. In addition, its low population and far northern location make it an unlikely destination. In any event, its rejection of resettlement received national news attention and may have motivated some of the previously mentioned 19 counties to say “Yes.”

Subsequently, a Bemidji business owner/operator and the daughter of World War II refugees, Monika Schneider, lamented the bad publicity the county has received. She said, “We should be so lucky to have a few young, energetic [refugee] families choosing to rebuild their futures in our tundra-adjacent paradise.” She concluded, “Bemidji is loaded with beautiful, loving, open-minded people of all backgrounds. I relocated here from a big city and there is no place I’d rather be. We who live, work and raise our families here are kind, generous, creative, hardworking, dedicated and resourceful people, committed to supporting our community in many lovely ways. We all value our sense of place and our great outdoors. Our downtown is vibrant and growing. We’re eager to offer our expertise for your enjoyment. As this story evolves, the entrepreneurs of Bemidji are here at work, ready to welcome and serve you, whoever you are.” [26]

 

 

 

Conclusion

 Although there is no requirement for any county to consider this issue, we will wait to see whether any of the other 59 counties in Minnesota take any action in this regard.

A broader analysis of this situation was provided in a Washington Post article.[27]

=====================================

[1] The most comprehensive analysis of the positions on this issue of the Minnesota counties are by Greta Kaul: As Minnesota counties vote on accepting refugees, here are the counties where refugees have actually moved in the last decade, MINNPOST (Jan. 9, 2020) and by Ferguson, Minnesota County votes ‘No’ to refugees as more than a dozen others say ‘Welcome,’ Brainerd Dispatch (Jan. 8, 2020)   Thanks to these journalists for their contributions. Population data (July 1, 2018 estimates) for the counties is available on the U.S. Census Bureau’s “Quick Facts” website; any corrections to the ethnic percentages would be greatly appreciated.

[2] Krohn, Blue Earth, Nicollet counties vote to continue accepting refugees, Mankato Free Press (Dec.17, 2019).

[3] Ferguson, Minnesota County votes ‘No’ to refugees as more than a dozen others say ‘Welcome,’ Brainerd Dispatch (Jan. 8, 2020).

[4] See n.3.

[4a] Slater, Cook County opens door with refugee consent, Duluth News Tribune (Jan. 14, 2020); Slater, North Shore county gives unanimous consent to future refugee resettlement, TwinCities Pioneer Press (Jan. 14, 2020).

[5] See n.3.

[6] Fergus, Goodhue County approves refugee resettlement, RiverTowns.net (Jan. 7, 2020);

[7] Hennepin County Board Minutes (Jan.7, 2020); Hennepin County, Letter of Consent for Refugee Resettlement (Jan. 7, 2020).

[8] See n.3.

[9] See n.3..

[10] See n.3.

[11] See n.3.

[12] Petersen, Olmsted County will remain open to refugees, Post Bulletin (Dec. 7, 2019)

[13] See n.3.

[14] See n.3.

[15] Rapp, County to accept refugees if asked, Pope County Tribune (Jan. 13, 2019)

[15a] Vezner, Ramsey County votes to accept more refugees. It already accepts most in MN, TwinCities Pioneer Press (Jan. 14, 2020).

[16] See n.3.

[17] See n.3.

[18] See n.3.

[18a] Washington County votes to continue accepting refugees, RiverTowns.net (Jan. 14, 2020).

[19]  Anaya, Watonwan County provides consent to federal government for refugee resettlement, St. James Plaindealer (Jan. 10, 2010); Watonwan County Board, Agenda (Jan. 7, 2019).

[20]  See n.3.

[21] Rao, Minnesota counties continue to weigh refugee resettlement, StarTribune (Jan. 7, 2020); Rao & Galioto, Minnesota county votes against allowing refugee resettlement, StarTribune (Jan. 7, 2020).

[22] See n. 21; Slater, St. Louis County delays refugee resettlement vote to May, Duluth Tribune (Jan. 7, 2020).

[23] See n.3.

[24] Liedke, UPDATED: Beltrami County votes no to accepting refugees, Bemidji Pioneer (Jan. 7, 2020); Assoc. Press, Northern Minnesota County Bans Refugee Resettlement, N.Y. Times (Jan. 7, 2020); What people are saying about Beltrami County’s vote to refuse refugees, StarTribune (Jan. 8, 2020); Rao, Minnesota’s Beltrami County votes against allowing refugee resettlement, StarTribune (Jan. 8. 2020); Kelly, What people are saying about Beltrami County’s vote to refuse refugees, StarTribune (Jan. 8, 2020); Some residents say refugees would just make Beltrami County’s struggles worse, StarTribune (Jan. 11, 2020).

[25] Apparently Appomattox County in Virginia also has voted against such resettlement. See Rao, Minnesota’s Beltrami County votes against allowing refugee resettlement, StarTribune (Jan. 8. 2020).

[26] Schneider, Reflections from a Beltrami County businessperson, StarTribune (Jan. 15, 2020).

[27] Sacchetti & Morrison, North Dakota county accepted refugees, but the debate is far from over, Wash. Post (Jan. 8, 2020).

 

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]

====================================

[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)

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]

=================================

[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).

 

 

 

Rural Minnesota Endeavoring To Attract Younger People  

As noted in prior posts, many rural parts of the U.S., including Minnesota, have aging and declining populations that present many problems for the regions.[1] But there are hopeful signs that this trend may be reversing.

“The Blandin Foundation (Grand Rapids, MN) has found evidence of growing interest in small-town Minnesota: A study earlier this year showed more rural Minnesotans are staying put, with fewer considering moving to an urban area. Yet more urban residents — those in the Twin Cities, Duluth, Mankato, Moorhead, Rochester and St. Cloud — are considering moving to rural areas. The top reason they cited? Quality of life.”

This conclusion is supported by a University of Minnesota Extension rural sociologist, Ben Winchester, who said, “Rural Minnesota towns aren’t just experiencing a ‘brain drain’ of people in their 20s but also a ‘brain gain’ of people 30 to 49 years old. The next five, 10 years are going to be a big wave of change across rural Minnesota as we welcome a new generation. It’s good news for our small towns.”[2]

Now some rural towns in Minnesota are responding to those problems by developing programs to attract younger people to move and establish their homes. These newcomers are “all members of a growing migration of people in their 30s and 40s moving to rural Minnesota—a movement that foundations, nonprofits and local entities are hoping to boost even further with new strategies to recruit  and retain newcomers.”[3]

Here is an account of at least some of those programs.

Fergus Falls, Minnesota[4]

Fergus Falls is a town in and the county seat of Otter Tail County in the west central part of the state. The town’s estimated population in 2017 was 13,138, while the County’s was 58,812. The town was incorporated in the late 1870s and is situated along the dividing line between the former great deciduous forest of the Northwest Territories to the east and the great plains to the west, in a region of gentle hills, where the recent geological history is dominated by the recession of the glaciers from the last great Ice Age, with numerous lakes and small rivers.

In the mid-19th century the town and area’s initial settlers were Norwegian immigrants and Union soldiers returning from the Civil War, many of whom became farmers (wheat and corn in the western plains and dairy and hogs in the eastern hills and forests). In the 1950s Interstate Highway 94 was built along the western edge of the town, enhancing the mobility of the town’s residents with many young people leaving town to attend college and not returning.

Now the West Central Initiative Foundation in Fergus Falls is touting Otter Tail County as the place to live and supporting several ways to draw more young professionals to fill job openings and have children to fill classrooms. The Foundation’s CEO, Anna Wasescha, said. “We want to be sure our region of Minnesota is vibrant and sustainable.”

This Foundation began a marketing campaign called “Live Wide Open in 2016 to share stories about why residents are moving from the Twin Cities or other states. . . [It] holds ‘welcome home’ events for natives, hoping to persuade them to return, and also helped fund a nonprofit, the Glenwood Lakes Area Welcome Center, to expand a welcoming program and start a newcomer group.” The Otter Tail County helps these efforts with a  “rural rebound initiative coordinator,” who “tracks data and creates videos and social media posts promoting the county’s 24 communities to show millennials and Gen X-ers there’s a vibrant, affordable life with job openings — and no congested commute.” The county’s coordinator, Erik Osberg, said, “Rural isn’t dying; it’s changing, and it’s changing for the better.”

Osberg also helps organize a “grab-a-bite program” in Fergus Falls, pairing residents with newcomers to help make a friend and learn about the community, and puts on a concert on a frozen lake in the winter to showcase the county to Fargo and Twin Cities visitors. “If we’re going to win the recruiting battle … we need to be the most welcoming community in the state.”

One newcomer couple four years ago moved from the Twin Cities to Fergus Falls when they had their first child. The mother said they wanted smaller school class sizes and a quality of life like the one she had growing up in rural North Dakota; plus, her husband can work remotely for a Minnetonka, Minnesota software company. The mother now works as the  County’s community development director, tracking the ‘rural rebound’ through the county’s growing population and increasing kindergarten class sizes. “It’s amazing how many people we meet with similar stories.”

Another newcomer and mother, Ruth Rosengren, helped launch Fergus Falls’ first co-working space this summer while working remotely for a California-based web development company. “I hope more people see … Fergus Falls as a viable place to live without giving up a job you want,” she said.

Willmar, Minnesota[5]

In the southwestern part of the state, Willmar historically was a largely white, Lutheran, Scandinavian town. Now, however, with a population of 19,610 (2010 Census), t is very diverse with its high school having students from 30 other countries speaking at least four foreign languages. In response the high school has two foreign-language cultural liaisons to work with the students and teachers, and local businesses have created an entrepreneurship program for all the students and a Community Integration Center.

Mankato, Minnesota

In Mankato, a small city of approximately 43,000 in the south-central part of the state, local “businesses found that young professionals without  a social connection left within two years.” So the local chamber of commerce “announced a new program matching a resident with a newcomer.”

Last year Mankato’s local newspaper published an editorial, saying, “Here, in the south-central area of the state, we have seen . . . reliance on a diverse workforce both in small cities and in the regional center of Mankato. Meat plants in St. James, Madelia, Butterfield and Windom [smaller cities in southwestern Minnesota] depend heavily on minority workers. Mankato manufacturing plants also hire immigrant workers and a number of immigrants have become small-business owners.”

The editorial ended with these comments: “Population projections predict that as baby boomers retire, enough workers won’t be available to fill the vacant jobs in Minnesota. Our newest segments of population are going to be key to keeping our businesses going. And a continuing tradition of strong public education in Minnesota, with the financial support it deserves, should help train those workers of today and tomorrow.”

Worthington, Minnesota

Katy Kouba and her husband recently moved to Worthington, Minnesota in the southwest corner of the state in order to raise their three kids in a smaller community after living on both U.S. coasts. She said, “It was a leap of faith, “ but we “wanted the life-style that rural Minnesota had to offer. I love the connection in a small town.”  She now works as the community concierge helping other new residents be integrated into the town’s life.

As recounted in a prior post, Worthington’s population has surged from less than 10,000 in 1990 to 13,000 today with a median age of under 36 and foreign immigrants constituting roughly one-third of the population and owning more than 25% of the town’s businesses.[6]

Other Programs

 Escapees from Chicago to Ely, Minnesota near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area and Canada were Tony Moskowitz and his family. “I feel like I am on permanent vacation,” he said while running his business from his home.

Ely is also part of northern Minnesota’s Iron Range, where in 2015 a group of young adults started the nonprofits ReGen to “help retain young professional by organizing social events like snowtubing and game night while fundraising to revamp towns.

 The Northwest Minnesota Foundation of Bemidji in the northwestern part of the state, is making grants to cities for amenities that attract families — from trails to maps of attractions.”

In Winona in the southeastern part of the state, Project FINE “has a monthly event for neighbors to get to know one another.”

Conclusion

According to The Wall Street Journal, young professionals moving from large metropolitan areas to smaller cities and towns is happening across the U.S. Such workers are “fueling a renaissance in U.S. cities that lie outside the major job hubs. People who do their jobs from home, freelance or constantly travel for work are migrating away from expensive urban centers such as Los Angeles and San Francisco toward cheaper cities including Boise; Denver; Austin, Texas; and Portland, Ore.” This has meant that the smaller cities and towns are starting to see fast-rising home prices and traffic congestion.[7]

==============================

[1] See, e.g., More Warnings of the Problems Facing U.S. Aging, Declining Population  (Aug. 14, 2019).

[2] Univ. MN Extension, A rural brain gain migration.

[3] Smith, Small cities seeing ‘rural rebound,’ Star Tribune (Sept. 1, 2019).

[4] Fergus Falls, Minnesota, Wikipedia; Fergus Falls Chamber of Commerce; Otter Tail County, Minnesota, Wikipedia.

[5] Additional Support for U.S. Needing More Immigrants, dwkcommentaries.com (May 18, 2019); Willmar, Minnesota, Wikipedia.

[6]  Outstate Minnesota City Aided by Immigrants, dwkcommentaries.com (Aug. 5, 2018).

[7]  Eisen, Workers Are Fleeing Big Cities for Smaller Ones—and Taking Their Jobs With Them.,W.S.J. (Sept. 7, 2019).

State of Minnesota Faces  Increasing Shortage of Workers

Last week had great news for the State of Minnesota. The State government was projected to have a  $1.5 billion surplus in its budget over the next two years [1]

On the other hand, this great news was coupled with a more troubling projection. The tight labor market caused by retiring baby boomers is an immediate problem, and its pinch on growing businesses is only going to get worse.

The report itself put it this way, “The state continues to add jobs at a steady pace, driving the unemployment rate well below the U.S. rate. Together, high demand for labor and low unemployment continue to support growth in total Minnesota wage income and wages per worker. However, as retiring baby boomers dampen growth in the state’s workforce, forecast employment growth is increasingly constrained. This means that more of Minnesota’s growth in total wage income is expected to arise from higher wages per worker, and less from increases in the number of people working.”

“Strong demand for workers,” the report continued, “combined with low unemployment, continues to tighten Minnesota’s labor market. Statewide, there have been fewer unemployed job-seekers than open positions for the past 18 months. Other indicators, such as initial claims for unemployment insurance and temporary help employment, are at levels consistent with a tight labor market. In October, Minnesota’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 2.8 percent, 0.9 percent below the national rate, 0.5 percentage points lower than a year ago, and the lowest unemployment rate the state has seen in more than 18 years.”

According to Walker Orenstein in MINNPost, there are five key facts underlying the projected worker shortage.

  1. There have been fewer unemployed job-seekers than open jobs for the past 18 months.

In October 2018, the state’s unemployment rate was 2.8 percent, which is 0.9 percent lower than the national rate and the lowest for the state in more than 18 years. The rate is still 5.4 percent for black Minnesotans and 5.0 percent for Hispanic residents, but those numbers also have dropped over the last few years.

  1. Job vacancies are up 16 percent compared to last year.

Minnesota has about 142,000 open jobs, a 16 percent jump over the same point in 2017. That’s more job openings compared to fewer than 100,000 unemployed people. The economic forecast report says the industries with the most open jobs are health care, accommodation and food service, retail and manufacturing.

When businesses can’t find people to fill the jobs they have open as baby boomers retire, it hampers their ability to grow and succeed. That crunch is being felt especially hard in the Twin Cities, where there are two job vacancies for every unemployed person, according to the report.

  1. Nearly 70 percent of people age 16 and older are employed.

Minnesota’s 68 percent rate of working people is the highest of any state and 7.4 points higher than the national rate,  This is great news, but  it also illustrates just how few people there are left for businesses to entice into working compared to other states.

  1. Wages are expected to rise as businesses struggle to find workers.

A “moderate acceleration” in salary growth is forecast. The forecasters expect wages to increase at higher rates than the national average during 2019 and 2020, but slow through 2023.

  1. More people are moving in, than out (for once).

From 2016 to 2017, nearly 8,000 more people moved to Minnesota from inside the U.S. than left the state, reversing a 15-year-long trend of negative domestic migration.

While the report warns one year of growth in this statistic doesn’t signal a long-term growth trend, the number of new Minnesotans is good news in an otherwise bleak landscape of worker shortages.

Shortage of Police Recruits[2]

A subset of the overall shortage of new workers is the problem Minnesota police departments are having in “attracting and keeping new police officers.”  For Minneapolis, “officials blamed the shrinking candidate pool on decreasing interest in the profession, lower enrollment and graduation rates from area college law enforcement programs, and ‘internal issues with the application, testing and hiring processes.’”

This also is a problem throughout the U.S. attributable to “low pay, high turnover and unflattering news coverage in the wake of high-profile police shootings.”

The Proposed Solutions to the Worker Shortage

The initial responses to this problem from Minnesota elected officials, in this blogger’s opinion, were meager at best.

Outgoing Speaker of the House Kurt Daudet (Rep.) suggested the state improve at enticing young people into trades and manufacturing — two industries struggling to fill positions. Gov.-elect Tim Walz (DFL) said some school districts lack the money to properly train an adequate workforce thanks to the state’s over-reliance on local property taxes to pay for schools.

So far at least, no public official is advocating for what the state really needs—more immigrants.[3]

===============================================

[1]  Minnesota Management & Budget, Budget and Economic Forecast (December 2018); Orenstein, A warning lurks beneath state budget surplus prediction: not enough workers to go around, MINNPost (Dec. 11, 2018); Berkel, Minnesota projects $1.5 billion surplus, StarTribune (Dec. 6, 2018).

[2]  Jany, Minnesota police look to combat crisis of statewide shortage in potential recruits, StarTribune (Dec. 13, 2018).

[3] See posts listed in the “U.S. Population & Immigration” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical—United States  (POLITICS).