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As Minnesota counties vote on accepting refugees, here are the counties where refugees have actually moved in the last decade

Beltrami County courthouse
The Beltrami vote, which came down 3-2 Tuesday night in Bemidji, was largely a symbolic one.

This week, Beltrami County commissioners made news for being the first in Minnesota to bar refugees from settling in their county upon arrival to the U.S.

The vote was prompted by an executive order from President Donald Trump that leaves it up to local governments to decide whether or not to allow new refugees to be settled within their jurisdictions.

Several counties in Minnesota, including Kandiyohi and Hennepin, have voted to allow refugee resettlement (a comprehensive list on the votes as of now can be found here). Others, including St. Louis and Stearns counties, have tabled their decisions to vote later. Counties are required to opt in to allow refugee resettlement, so if they don’t take action by the time the order takes effect in June, they will have effectively voted no.

The Beltrami vote, which came down 3-2 Tuesday night in Bemidji, was largely a symbolic one: according to Minnesota Department of Health data, Beltrami County has not taken new arrivals with refugee status for at least a decade.

MDH gets data on refugees from the federal government for its Refugee and International Health Program, designed to monitor the health of new refugees and develop community health education. A caveat: These only describe the county where refugees originally settle within Minnesota, and people with refugee status are free to move. The data include small numbers of people who are not primary refugees but are people with asylee, parolee, Amerasian and victim of trafficking status.

As more counties take votes to accept or deny new refugees, we took a look at where Minnesota’s new refugees come from and where they settle once they reach the state. Here are five things we learned:

1. The number of refugees coming to Minnesota has declined in recent years.

The number of refugees coming to Minnesota has gone up and down in recent decades, but in the last couple years, has dropped to historically low levels. That’s for a couple reasons, and it mirrors national trends: the initial drop in 2017 came as the result of a freeze on refugee admissions shortly after President Donald Trump took office. In subsequent years, Trump has allowed fewer refugees into the U.S. than previous administrations.

Refugee arrivals to Minnesota, 1979-2018
Source: Minnesota Department of Health

2. People from Burma have surpassed people from Somalia as the most common refugee arrivals to Minnesota.

Minnesota became home to a sizable Somali refugee population after the state started accepting refugees after civil war broke out in the 1990s. Today, the Twin Cities are believed to have the largest concentration of Somali-Americans in the U.S.

But the number of people coming from Somalia to Minnesota has declined in recent years. In 2016, people from Somalia made up 45 percent of new arrivals, compared to 9 percent in 2018.

Somalia was a target of Trump’s 2017 entry ban. Partly as a result, the number of people coming to the U.S. with refugee status from Somalia, previously the country of origin for most of Minnesota’s refugees, began to drop then.

In 2018, arrivals from Burma, many of them from persecuted minority groups within the country, outnumbered arrivals from Somalia. According to the Karen Organization of Minnesota, St. Paul is home to one of the U.S.’ largest Karen immigrant communities, one of the groups that has left Burma in large numbers.

Refugee arrivals to Minnesota by country, 2015-2018
Source: Minnesota Department of Health

3. Ramsey county was home to the most new refugees per capita in the last decade.

Between 2009 and 2018, Ramsey County was the first place 10,479 people with refugee status called home in Minnesota.

That puts its rate of new refugees per capita at 190 per 10,000 residents — higher than any other Minnesota county and more than double Stearns County, the Minnesota county with the second highest number of new refugees per capita, at 90 per 10,000 residents during that timespan.

New refugees accepted by Minnesota county per 10,000 residents, 2009–2018
Source: Minnesota Department of Health
New refugees accepted by Minnesota County, 2009–2018
Source: Minnesota Department of Health

4. Only about half of Minnesota counties were the first stop for any Minnesota refugees in the last decade.

43 Minnesota counties had no new arrivals.

 5. Ten counties were the original destination for 95 percent of new refugees in Minnesota.

The top five counties — Ramsey, Hennepin, Stearns, Olmsted and Anoka counties — were the original destination for 90 percent of new refugees.

Top 10 counties for new refugees in Minnesota, 2009-2018
Source: Minnesota Department of Health

Comments (11)

  1. Submitted by Nathan Johnson on 01/09/2020 - 04:57 pm.

    It’s like if you drew a line up I-94 and everything south attracted refugees and everything north did not. One must wonder, why not?

    I am looking for a brave Northern Minnesota county to step-up and wave a flag of acceptance and offer a sanctuary and pathway for these people often leaving oppression and inopportunely behind. Where is our Minnesota nice? Also, WWJD?

  2. Submitted by Kevin Schumacher on 01/09/2020 - 06:28 pm.

    In Clay County, we have a thriving community of folks from Iraq….we are planning a Kubah cook-off in March to celebrate the Kurdish community if suitable arrangements can be made. Celebrate New Americans…they can contribute to our immigrant country!!!

  3. Submitted by James Hamilton on 01/10/2020 - 08:45 am.

    Thanks for a very informative piece. A link to it should be sent to every county commissioner in the state.

    We can now confidently attribute NO votes to bigotry in almost every county in Minnesota.

  4. Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 01/10/2020 - 11:00 am.

    Some folks look at the world and its inhabitants with an eye towards great adventures, wisdom, and challenges, Other folks look and see nothing but fear and distaste of the different and unknown. Which vision is the light and which is the dark?

  5. Submitted by Frank Phelan on 01/10/2020 - 08:17 pm.

    I’d like to see some data on counties experiencing population loss & economic decline versus immigrants as a percentage of population.

    This could be interesting in light of the census, re-districting, and the possible loss of a Congressional district.

  6. Submitted by Dane Smith on 01/12/2020 - 06:20 am.

    Excellent backgrounder Greta, nobody else in media has done this. I’d like to see more on exactly WHY Ramsey is so off the charts, with more than twice as many as Hennepin, but with half the population. Could it be as simple as the resettlement agency offices are located there?

    • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 01/14/2020 - 11:07 am.

      Just a guess: But the Somali’s were predominantly in the 90’s, Hmong in the 70’s-80’s, Liberians in the 90’s-early 2000’s, all well before the timeline Greta used 2009-2018.

    • Submitted by James Berka on 01/17/2020 - 05:41 am.

      Quite simply, new refugees feel most comfortable living near others who understand their culture and share their language and faith values. They form communities together. Hmong people have spread out as the generations have gone on, but that was a multi generation process. It was the same with European immigrants before them. I live in the neighborhood where the Karen community is growing. I am about a block away from a Karen Seventh Day Adventist congregation that is doing very well. We installed Sepak Takraw playing courts, a game popular with the Karen people. We hired a Karen language speaker to work in our neighborhood organization office (I was one of the interviewers). It has been exciting to see.

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