Trump’s man in Minnesota: even as his colleagues cry foul over immigration orders, Emmer stays loyal to the administration

MinnPost file photo by Jana Freiband
Emmer argued that Trump’s orders were necessary for national security because, “under the Obama Administration we were forced to stand by and watch as individuals exploited our refugee and immigration systems without recourse.”

President Donald Trump issued a flurry of executive orders on immigration last week, ordering the construction of the wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, ramping up deportation enforcement, and defunding sanctuary jurisdictions.

But what dominated the news over the weekend was his order that temporarily suspends refugee resettlement in the U.S., and implements harsh restrictions on travel from seven Muslim-majority countries — even for legal U.S. residents.

Minnesota’s Democratic lawmakers immediately denounced the orders in strong terms, even joining demonstrators at protests in Minnesota and D.C. There’s opposition on the Republican side, too, with Rep. Erik Paulsen denouncing Trump’s order and Rep. Jason Lewis distancing himself from its more controversial provisions.

The one Minnesotan representative to come out in support of the immigration orders before and after the backlash was Rep. Tom Emmer, a move that surprised and disappointed immigrant advocates, who once believed the second-term Republican might take a more tempered approach on immigration and refugee issues.

Refugees ‘exploited’ system

Emmer, who was a true GOP team player in an election when many of his fellow Republicans distanced themselves from Trump, is once again embracing that role in the chaotic early days of the administration. Last week, after Trump signed the initial immigration orders, Emmer was the only Minnesota Republican to come out with a statement voicing support. In that statement, Emmer also alluded to the restrictions that were to come, making strong claims about the immigration and refugee systems that the president himself would approve.

Emmer argued that Trump’s orders were necessary for national security because, “under the Obama Administration we were forced to stand by and watch as individuals exploited our refugee and immigration systems without recourse.”

Yet several immigration experts, lawyers, and refugees themselves interviewed by MinnPost said that it is almost impossible to exploit the refugee system. Under Barack Obama’s administration, the refugee resettlement process took multiple years, with numerous background, health, and national security checks carried out by several different federal agencies.

Ryan Allen, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota who studies immigration policy, said he does not know of any “credible evidence” that the U.S. refugee program is being exploited in a systematic way. “When you combine the existence of the current vetting process with the fact that we admit an incredibly small number and proportion of people deemed to be refugees by the United Nations, it is hard to see how anyone can ‘exploit’ our refugee resettlement program.”

Only one percent of the global refugee population, estimated at 20 million, is eligible to resettle in the U.S., a figure determined by the United Nations. In 2016, 85,000 refugees were admitted to the U.S. — 0.4 percent of all refugees.

In a follow-up to clarify what he meant about exploitation of the refugee system, Emmer said “we have seen attacks in the U.S. and abroad by individuals who have abused the pure-minded intentions of the refugee and immigration programs,” adding that though the vast majority of immigrants come peacefully, enhancing the program is necessary to ensure safety.

However, the most recent high-profile terrorist attacks in the U.S., like the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings and the 2015 San Bernardino shooting, were carried out by legal U.S. residents radicalized on American soil. A Somali refugee killed one person in an attack at Ohio State University in November, but he had arrived in the U.S. in 2014 and federal investigators believed he had been inspired by Islamic State propaganda.

Weekend backlash

On Friday afternoon, Trump signed the big executive orders, to crack down on travel between the U.S. and seven countries — Iraq, Iran, Somalia, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia, and Libya — basically halt refugee admission for four months, and indefinitely halt admission of Syrian refugees.

It’s not the full “Muslim ban” Trump once called for on the campaign trail, but the orders disproportionately affected Muslim U.S. residents, who were detained over the weekend at airports in the U.S. and elsewhere despite having legal status.

As Democrats responded to Trump’s orders as cruel, confusing, and un-American, Paulsen denounced them too, saying in a statement the policy was “too broad and has been poorly implemented and conceived.”

Lewis said in a statement that Americans expect “proper vetting,” but made clear his issues with the order, saying that a religious test is not supported by the Constitution and that green card holders and veterans shouldn’t be denied entry to the country.

But Emmer continued to back the administration. In a Monday statement, he said the executive order “takes temporary and important steps to reevaluate and enhance our refugee and visa screening process.” The Paris and San Bernardino attacks, he claimed, illustrate the danger of not having a “thorough and secure” vetting process.

Emmer did not say that green card holders, students, or others lawfully in the U.S. should be spared the scrutiny given over the weekend, only adding that “improvements may be needed” and that he is confident Congress will address the issue.

A change in approach? 

A Republican’s support or opposition to Trump’s orders is, thus far, the most significant test of fealty to the new administration in its first 10 days, and Emmer has shown he’s clearly on the same page as the White House.

To immigration advocates who have watched Emmer over the years, that is a disappointing development. For a while, Emmer cut an unconventional profile on immigration issues. Along with Rep. Keith Ellison, he founded the Congressional Somali Caucus, the first congressional group devoted to the issues of Somalis in Africa and the U.S. And in an October 2016 episode of the popular radio show “This American Life” that explored the tensions between recent Somali arrivals and longtime St. Cloud residents, Emmer was featured prominently. The episode included a scene from a town hall meeting in which Emmer stood up for Somali immigrants, pushing back against some of his constituents who wanted to stop Somalis from settling in the area.

John Keller, who runs the Immigration Law Center of Minnesota, called the recent turn of events “really unfortunate, because I think [Emmer] has done a good job in the past in trying to stick up for refugees in his district and in that region.”

Jane Graupman of the International Institute of Minnesota, a nonprofit that assists in refugee resettlement, said Emmer had been “much more welcoming to refugees in our community… I felt like he was trying to be an advocate and a voice of reason.”

Husein Mohamud spent most of his life in a refugee camp in Kenya and waited six years to be admitted to the U.S., arriving in 2012. Now he lives in St. Cloud, and is saddened and frustrated by what’s happening. “Politicians like Tom Emmer and Donald Trump, what they say, refugees exploiting the settlement opportunity, that’s baseless,” Mohamud said. “These actions will make harder the life of refugees.”

The prospect of coming to the U.S. — however remote — provides hope for those living in crowded refugee camps in Africa, Mohamud said. “Once American leaders say we’re going to shut it down, that’s not how to make America great.”

Correction: A previous version of this article misidentified the organization where Jane Graupman works. 

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Comments (22)

  1. Submitted by Keppen Daniel on 01/31/2017 - 11:32 am.

    Tom Emmer vs his electorate

    Tom Emmer probably learned that standing up for his principles and what is morally right will not get you far in the 6th district. While he did in fact defend the right of Somalis to live in St.Cloud in the town hall on the podcast, he probably went home right after decided that if he wants a long successful career in the GOP he better adapt and take a hard stance against refugees, or risk getting primaried by someone who will. Sad to see a man lose his spine so quickly, Emmer decided that the GOP is the party of Trump and that he wants a future in the party.

    On the bright side, Emmer still is leaps and bounds better than Al Novstrup, the SD politican that was also featured on the podcast. He represents my hometown and honestly believes that Dearborn, Michigan is ruled by Sharia law.

  2. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 01/31/2017 - 11:59 am.

    We have to keep pointing out instances where “Trump supporters” among the GOP Congressmen have decided to go with lies rather than truths. Emmer knows that he’s lying when he claims that there was ineffective vetting of immigrants under Obama, that there is no basis for what he’s staying on this issue.

    How sad, that someone who could be a rational voice in Minnesota’s GOP has decided that his district’s electorate is both ignorant and highly fearful. So he p0lays to irrational fears.

  3. Submitted by David Frenkel on 01/31/2017 - 12:10 pm.


    I wonder when Trump will sign an executive order dealing with Cuba. Emmer enjoys his winter trips to Cuba touting opening up MN agricultural trade with Cuba. What will Emmer say if Trump closes the trade door with Cuba?

  4. Submitted by Jim Smola on 01/31/2017 - 12:11 pm.

    Lacking a backbone

    This is another example of a politician not doing what is ethically and morally correct. Representative Emmer is doing what is politically expedient and that stance doesn’t measure up to the process that immigrants actually go through to enter our country. Failure to recognize that this country has an extreme process in place to vet immigrants is akin to sticking one’s head in the sand or using “alternative facts.”

  5. Submitted by Barbara Hansen on 01/31/2017 - 12:17 pm.

    Emmer supports Trump ban

    Emmer has no intestinal fortitude.

  6. Submitted by Pat Berg on 01/31/2017 - 12:23 pm.

    Say anything

    Clearly he will say anything. When he says “under the Obama Administration we were forced to stand by and watch as individuals exploited our refugee and immigration systems without recourse” he better be ready to back that up with evidence and examples. Otherwise, it’s just more Trumpian hot air.

    • Submitted by Henk Tobias on 01/31/2017 - 12:50 pm.

      Why in the world would he

      have to back up his comments when the President feels exactly the same way and no one is asking him for proof? Truth and facts no longer matter what matters is what someone believes and feels. And what these wingnuts believe and feel is what they are told to believe and feel by right-wing hate radio and by “leaders” like Trump.

  7. Submitted by Jan Menke on 01/31/2017 - 01:11 pm.


    Why am I not surprised? Underneath all the phony baloney political crap, he’s always seemed like a kind of pull-up-the-ladder-I’m-aboard kind of guy to me.

  8. Submitted by Joel Stegner on 01/31/2017 - 01:12 pm.

    Proper vetting

    Here are some examples of improper vetting.

    That Donald Trump was allowed to call himself a successful CEO equipped to be President, rather than the lying, cheating con man that he is.

    That Steve Bannon, neo-Nazi propagandist, is acting as Trump’s chief advisor.

    That several cabinet appointees are likely to be approved without going through a full ethics review, after submitting plagiarized answers, showing ignorance about their area of responsibility and lying under oath.

    All these issues are Republican – and Republicans like Emmer couldn’t care less.

    Where vetting is needed is not with refugees, but with angry white men with guns and scores to settle, like the white nationalist in Quebec. The greatest risk right now is to peaceful Muslims who do not deserve the wrath of bigots.

  9. Submitted by Edward Blaise on 01/31/2017 - 01:17 pm.


    I do see Emmer as a more rational alternative to Michelle Bachmann and he has surprised me a few times doing things Bachmann would never consider.

    That said, hooking his wagon to a President that has a documented record of having 69% of his stated facts being untruthful (Politifact) ain’t a path to success. Staying on the current slope, Trump’s approval will fall to the high teens by year end and even Emmer will dessert the cause.

    The Donald will be doing 1974 Nixon like midnight rant’s in the White House shortly after that. Can Marine 1 land on the roof of Trump’s DC hotel when it deposits him back into private life next year?

  10. Submitted by Aaron Albertson on 01/31/2017 - 01:40 pm.

    I always knew Emmer being a moderate was a charade

    The silver lining is that this means he probably won’t be running for governor.

  11. Submitted by Jackson Cage on 01/31/2017 - 02:28 pm.

    Throw him a life preserver

    Look, after his time in the Minnesota legislature and his run for Governor, we knew Emmer wasn’t very bright. He’s a guy who will never stray from the Party position because that would require critical thought.

    What he doesn’t get is, by simply spouting the Gospel according to Trump, he’s just another member of the Swamp.

    • Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 01/31/2017 - 04:24 pm.

      It USED to be “The Swamp”

      Now, it’s “The Black Lagoon,”…

      and it’s filled with a whole new class of foul-smelling, slimy, creatures,…

      who make the previous denizens of that “swamp,”…

      seem like sweet-smelling cuddly bunnies,…

      by comparison.

      Who would have guessed that Dishonest Donald could make “the swamp,”…

      into something FAR WORSE.

  12. Submitted by Robert Gauthier on 01/31/2017 - 05:18 pm.

    When Emmer backs away from Trump….

    You will see impeachment procedures starting soon after. He is a canary in the conservative coal mine.

  13. Submitted by Richard Parker on 01/31/2017 - 07:16 pm.

    Stick a fork in him

    Reading this article, I started thinking I should write a personal note to Emmer. I’ve enjoyed his performances in Minnroast the past couple years — he can be a really folksy, funny guy and seemed to be a good sport. I also thought he was a welcome relief from Michele Bachmann. But with this performance, I’m done with Emmer. He’s done, I pray. I hope you aren’t including him in this year’s Minnroast!

  14. Submitted by Jeffrey Swainhart on 02/01/2017 - 06:38 am.

    If you’d like to comment to Mr. Emmer in person

    His office hours:

    Tom Emmer’s District Office Hours

    2/7/2017 9:30 AM Waite Park City Hall 19 13th Ave N Waite Park MN 56387
    2/22/2017 7:00 PM Sartell City Hall 125 Pine Cone Rd. N Sartell MN 56377

  15. Submitted by beryl john-knudson on 02/01/2017 - 07:02 am.

    Emmer ever the opportunist?

    As long as Emmer becomes a too obvious clinger vocalizing his love of Trumper, call him an opportunist shedding another, same old skin ?

    It;s when he becomes a ‘collaborator’ that he;s the man to take seriously…then again as policy-by executive-order becomes the standard and congress still sits on its hands who knows what comes next?

  16. Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 02/04/2017 - 10:21 am.


    Liberals are supposed to be tolerant and accepting but it is hard to believe this after reading these comments. As soon as Mr. Emmer did something they don’t like, he becomes an enemy…

    Now, speaking of vetting people from Syria. Here is a link which says that the system cannot guarantee anything But I will add to that. Background check is done by reviewing the records of refugees. How do you review records of people in a country where the civil war is raging, archives are burnt, and half a country is under control of a party that will never cooperate and is actually interested in deceiving the system? The honest answer should be: Impossible. Let alone the fact that a person may have clean record and yet be recruited by ISIS because his or her children are on ISIS controlled territory?

    “Ryan Allen, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota who studies immigration policy, said he does not know of any “credible evidence” that the U.S. refugee program is being exploited in a systematic way.” The key word here is “systemic” which does make this statement most likely correct but is that good enough? If ISIS wants to exploit the program on “case by case” basis, will we accept that?

  17. Submitted by Steve Hoffman on 02/07/2017 - 03:28 pm.


    Of course Mr Emmer falls for, and even stands for, all the most blatant lies of the Trump administration. He’s Michele Bachmann Lite, for heaven’s sake! He was elected to replace her and he’s doing a fine job of it, confounding those who said there could never be another Minnesota politician as embarrassing as Ms Bachmann.

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