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)

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).