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On immigration, guv candidates Walz and Johnson ‘fundamentally disagree’ on policy priorities

MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
At a press conference in July, Jeff Johnson called for a suspension of the state’s involvement in refugee resettlement.

Voters looking for policy differences between DFL nominee Tim Walz and Republican nominee Jeff Johnson could start by looking, well, just about anywhere.

Johnson, a Hennepin County commissioner, ran to the right of former Gov. Tim Pawlenty and has stayed there going into the general election against U.S. Rep. Walz. In the handful of forums and debates that have featured the two candidates — both before and after the Aug. 14 primary — it was a rarity for them to agree on the most contentious issues.

That said, the subject that offers the most stark contrast might be immigration and refugee resettlement.

Don’t think so? The candidates do.

“This is a place where Jeff and I fundamentally disagree,” Walz said during an appearance with Johnson on Twin Cities PBS’ “Almanac” three days after both won their primaries.

“I have a very different perspective on this,” Johnson said before talking about immigration policies during a preprimary forum in Mankato.

How important an issue?

A statewide poll of 500 likely voters conducted between Aug. 17 and 20 by Suffolk University for the St. Cloud Times found that immigration might not be a top-of-mind issue for Minnesota voters, especially in the race for governor.

When asked what the most important issues were in that election, 21 percent said health care, while nearly the same number — 16.6 percent to 15 percent — said that the economy, taxes and education were most important. Immigration was cited by 7.6 percent of those polled as the most important.

Immigration was cited more frequently when those same voters were asked about issues in the U.S. Senate races. In those two contests, 26.2 percent agreed that health care was most important, 21.60 percent said the economy, and 14.6 percent said immigration.

The same poll first noted that the state has been a “top destination for refugees coming to the United States” before asking whether the state accepts too many refugees, not enough or just the right number. Of those responding, 44.4 percent said too many, 38.6 percent said just the right amount and 10.2 percent said not enough.

At a press conference in July, Johnson called for a suspension of the state’s involvement in refugee resettlement, saying the state has 2 percent of the U.S. population but has accepted 13 percent of the resettled refugees.

“I don’t think refugee resettlement is intrinsically bad,” he said. “I think if you go back 30-40 years there are some remarkable success stories you could talk about with refugee resettlement. But lately the program is just not working for Minnesota. Let’s step back and ask how do we make sure the refugees who are here are achieving the American Dream, because many of them aren’t right now.”

In both that press conference and in a column by Johnson published on AlphaNews, Johnson cited a 2017 University of Notre Dame study that tried to quantify the costs to the U.S. of refugees. William Evans, the chair of the university’s Department of Economics, and research assistant Daniel Fitzgerald used National Bureau of Economic Research data to estimate that the average cost is $107,000, not including costs to school districts and local governments.

“There’s concerns about cost, significant concerns about cost. And we know from our own DHS that we are spending more than $100 million a year,” Johnson said in the Mankato forum.

What Johnson does not include in his citation of the Notre Dame study, however, is its conclusion that within eight years of arrival, adult refugees are paying more in taxes than they receive in benefits. “… the evidence indicates that refugees who enter the United States as working-age adults provide a fiscal benefit over the long term,” Evans told the university’s news bureau. He also noted that the benefits are even greater for refugees who enter the U.S. as children.

Morality and economics

Walz frames his support for immigration and continuing the state’s openness to refugee resettlement in terms that are both moral and economic. During the Mankato forum, he said: “We know what it says on the Statue of Liberty. It doesn’t say, ‘Get the Hell Out.’ ”

“The positive nature of immigration and the refugee resettlement program is adding not just to the diversity of the communities, but it’s adding to economic growth,” Walz said on “Almanac.” “It’s adding to the sense of where Minnesota has always been, that there’s something that we pride ourselves on as a nation of immigrants.”

A January 2017 report by Ryan Allen at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs argues that the state will need migrants – both domestic and international — to fulfill its workforce needs over the next several decades.

“Without a substantial increase of migration to Minnesota in the future,” the study states, “the state’s labor force will likely grow much slower than it has in recent years. This will make filling job vacancies more challenging in the future.”

Tim Walz and running mate Peggy Flanagan, left

MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
Tim Walz and running mate Peggy Flanagan, left, held a June 19 press conference on border issues.

Allen said the percentage of immigrants in the population will increase from about 7.8 percent in 2014 to 13.2 percent — about 870,000 people — by 2060. But that share will lag the rest of the nation, where immigrants are projected to make up 18.8 percent of the population by 2060.

Walz says often that the state needs these immigrants to stay economically competitive. During a press conference in June in the midst of the family separation crisis, he said, “This is not who we are; this is not what we stand for.

“During a gubernatorial campaign there may be one or two moments like this that give the opportunity to stand up, that give the opportunity to stand up and say what is happening at the southern border is not who we are, it is immoral, it is barbaric.”

Who is intolerant?

Johnson has used the issue to argue that DFLers and progressives are not open to talking about what he thinks many in the state are concerned about.

“We have citizens in St. Cloud who came forward and said we want to know what the cost of this is because we think it’s significant,” Johnson said in Mankato. “The answer to them was not, ‘Let’s figure that out.’ The answer was, ‘You are racist and you are white supremacist and shut up.’ ”

He frequently cites a public meeting in 2015 during which Gov. Mark Dayton said, “This is Minnesota, and you have every right to be here. And anybody who cannot accept your right to be here, and this is Minnesota, should find another state.”

DFLers often frame opposition to immigration as racial and religious intolerance, partly because some of the anti-immigration statements have coincided with anti-Muslim rhetoric. “The rhetoric we are hearing in Washington, D.C., is rhetoric we’re going to hear in this election,” former DFL candidate Erin Murphy said in Mankato. “It’s meant to divide us against one another. And that might help in the short run, but it hurts us in the long term.”

Walz, who has represented the First Congressional District since 2007, said he thinks GOP leadership in the U.S. House doesn’t want to pass compromise immigration reform because they would prefer to have it available as a “wedge issue” this campaign.

“Every sovereign nation has a responsibility to control its borders,” Walz said at the Mankato forum. “You can do that in a smart manner. We need to tell our neighbors who want rule of law, who say why don’t people just get in line and come through the line to get here … there is no line to get into, because there is no legal way for people to move into that.”

ICE and border enforcement

Johnson has also attempted to make border security an issue, pointing to some on the Democratic Party’s left who have demanded the abolishment of the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, known as ICE.

A new Politico/Morning Consult poll indicated that just one in four voters think the agency should be eliminated. A plurality of Democrats, however, support such a move — 43 percent to 34 percent with the rest undecided. Majorities of Republicans — 79 percent — and those who identify as independents — 54 percent — support keeping the agency that emerged from post-9/11 legal changes.

Walz told the “Almanac” audience that immigration enforcement is a federal responsibility, while local law enforcement is a state and local job. He supports what are called separation ordinances that prevent local police from asking the immigration status of those they come in contract with. “States that separate those two things clearly have lower crime rates, they have better integration and they have safer cities,” Walz said.

In an interview before the primary, Walz said he does not support abolishing ICE. “Reform certainly,” he said. “More importantly, give them clear direction of what the mission is. Let them carry out the mission of immigration control and enforcement, but on the front end where it’s not seen as a punitive force that comes in.”

Johnson seeks to draw a clean line between himself and Walz on the issue. “I don’t believe that we should be a sanctuary state,” he said. “I don’t believe we should dismantle or disband ICE.”

“A lot of time the left will talk about immigration when they’re talking about illegal immigration,” Johnson said. “And I actually believe that we as a state should work with the federal government to enforce the immigration laws. Tim believes we should become a sanctuary state; I do not. I don’t think that is the right place for Minnesota to be. We are a state of laws and we are a country of laws and we should enforce them.”

Comments (12)

  1. Submitted by Frank Phelan on 08/29/2018 - 11:23 am.

    I’m For Lower Crime

    And since immigrants are less likely to commit crime, more immigration makes for a safer USA.

    But I just can’t figure out what Johnson’s strategy is here. I’m told he is depending on both rural and Bible believing evangelical voters. American agriculture is highly dependent on immigrant labor, both documented and undocumented. How will those rural economies do with out immigrant labor?

    And those evangelicals know the Good Book very well, including Moses’ & Isaiah’s admonition to welcome the alien in our midst, as we were once aliens in the land of Egypt. Deuteronomy tells us that “tithing was begun, in part, for resident aliens.” Jeremiah tells us, “If you do not oppress the alien…then I will dwell with you in this place…” Jesus turns to his right and says, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” When asked when is was they welcomed Him as a stranger, He replied, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”

    There are dozens of verses like these. So I find it very odd that Johnson would expect the support of God’s Own Party when he advocates such unchristian treatment of the stranger in our midst, especially refugees.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 08/29/2018 - 12:19 pm.

      It Doesn’t Have to Make Sense

      Immigration is a wedge issue. It doesn’t have to fit in with either religious beliefs or economics. Yammering about immigration gets the base riled up and–perhaps–to the polls.

      Johnson’s strategy is to deflect from the reality that he is just another bog standard Republican, pushing the same old policies that drove the state down during the Pawlenty years. Cultural issues like immigration are his safest talking points.

    • Submitted by Edward Blaise on 08/29/2018 - 12:50 pm.


      Those are just the fake news passages out of the Bible. Let’s focus more in on the “eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth” part that they really like…

      • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 08/30/2018 - 05:59 am.

        The Jewish Carpenter said (paraphrasing) “You have heard ‘an eye for an eye”, but I say you need to turn the other cheek,” part of the new covenant He proclaimed. The part about welcoming the alien in our midst echos through both testaments, from Genesis on.

    • Submitted by joe smith on 08/30/2018 - 02:38 pm.

      We are talking illegal immigrants and crime rate not legal immigrants. According to Crime Prevention Research Center and researcher John Lott, illegal aliens are far more likely to commit crimes than legal immigrants or US citizens. While illegal immigrants ages 18 to 35 are 3% of AZ population, 8% of the AZ prison population consists of that group. From 1985-2017 that same age group (dreamers) of illegal immigrants were convicted of 13% of the 4,000 1st and 2nd degree murders in AZ. Legal immigrants were responsible for 1%.
      Those statistics you site blend legal and illegal immigrants together to show less crime. Nobody has a problem with legal immigrants, it is the illegal immigrants we need to worry about.

      • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 08/31/2018 - 12:28 pm.

        Check your sources.

        John Lott is notorious for pushing studies that are backed up with dubious evidence, making false claims, and general dishonesty. Even Alan Dershowitz says his work is “junk science.”

  2. Submitted by Eric House on 08/29/2018 - 11:58 am.

    why lie?

    given the degree of contradiction already present, I’m trying to figure out why Johnson feels the need to intentionally misrepresent Walz’s position. Walz clearly states he believes ICE should NOT be abolished, yet there is Johnson trying to accuse him of wanting it abolished.

    Maybe the bald face lying is part of being the “Trumpier” candidate on the Republican side? what else is Johnson lying about?

    • Submitted by John Evans on 08/30/2018 - 06:47 pm.

      Because he’s not having the same conversation the rest of us are. He’s not actually pleading for the rest of us to take his views seriously. He’s not talking to you at all.

      He’s dog-whistling to his base, telling them that they are oppressed, disregarded and despised.

  3. Submitted by Alex Schieferdecker on 08/29/2018 - 12:18 pm.

    All you need to know about Jeff Johnson

    You can find in his infuriating manipulation of the University of Notre Dame study, in which he quotes the costs and conveniently omits the economic benefits of accepting refugees. It can only be a deliberate deception on his part, but even if we charitably assume his error to be pure laziness, it remains disqualifying.

    I hope Minnesotans elect a governor who understands the very basic, toddler-level concepts of costs *and* benefits.

  4. Submitted by Chris Lynch on 08/29/2018 - 08:52 pm.

    How about some fairness in immigration rules

    I like most people I meet and even some I’ve never met too. It’s not hard since most among us usually have something about them worth liking or admiring. When it comes to immigration, legal and otherwise, I find myself rooting for those who might be thought of as “immigration underdogs”, so to speak. I call them that because they mostly play by the rules and still can’t get much traction. Most around the world who apply for a VISA to the US or to immigrate here are turned down flat, even after having put their $250 down to apply. That’s what people in the Caribbean and elsewhere have to put on the table to even get an interview to come to the good old USA. And I don’t blame anyone for wanting to come here either. Opportunity here surely beats anything available in most of the world. (And BTW, maybe if we did a little more to shore up our neighboring countries a bit and if we also helped them stem excessive crime that’s driving many to want to emigrate, it would be cheaper than allowing the sorta slow invasion that’s happening now, wouldn’t it?) So it galls me that our US government insists on asking for the $250 to apply, and when a person is turned down, the next thing out of our government’s mouth is to say, “You can apply again in a week or two, but you have to pay another $250”. It seems our government is paying salaries and running our overseas embassies on the fees charged, mostly to poor people, to come or visit us or to emigrate here. Somewhat reprehensible I say. (A 500% increase since probably the 1980s!) Anyway, I worked for a year in Jamaica, for example, and that’s what’s happening to people I know who apply for papers allowing them to visit. Meanwhile, those who cross “illegally” seem to get all the sympathy and support for barging in without even asking or without even paying one cent! IT’S GROSSLY UNFAIR. And yet no one seems to care one whit. Not one. I hate this unfairness because my friends in Jamaica and others throughout the Caribbean and around the world deserve to have AT LEAST an equal chance to come here if they want to. Many are at least as deserving or even as needy as anyone arriving on our southern border lately. Why would or should they be less able to be considered for immigration than those who simply flout the law and decide to just waltz on in on their own. INHO, this is the ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM, and no one is really talking about it either. And it upsets me too. Can you tell?

  5. Submitted by John Evans on 08/29/2018 - 11:29 pm.

    Why so touchy?

    Johnson has been writing dialogue for the straw man, but it needs a little work:

    — “The answer was, ‘You are racist and you are white supremacist and shut up.’ ”

    I understand that he has to make up stuff like this to keep his base offended. But the straw man’s lines lack nuance and motivation. He needs to give the character more depth and complexity

  6. Submitted by Joe Musich on 09/04/2018 - 02:31 pm.

    The more I hear from Johnson the more I hear a clumsy tailoring of message. That being said I wonder if he could have been elected in any other county commision district. It is interesting how his thoughts on post secondary education have changed with a child in college. Maybe if this child were to enter a relationship with someone who is in the immigration mix his views would be different ? Not sure. But if suddenly someone learns although essentially not a bad thing it could indicate a weak sense of empathy. Need that to be a decent representative. Don’t you think ?

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