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After judge blocks Trump executive order, Minnesota counties postpone refugee votes

People protesting last October against the Trump administration cuts to the refugee resettlement program in front of the U.S. Capitol Building.
REUTERS/Leah Millis
People protesting last October against the Trump administration cuts to the refugee resettlement program in front of the U.S. Capitol Building.

Beltrami County commissioners made news this month, voting to bar refugees from resettling in the county when they first arrive in the U.S.

The northern Minnesota county is among the at least 25 counties that have voted on the issue, the result of an executive order by President Donald Trump that sought to give local governments more say in whether or not to welcome refugees. Beltrami was the only county to vote no.

For many Minnesota counties, the decision is more of a symbolic exercise than one likely to have effects: only about half of Minnesota’s 87 counties have resettled any refugees in the last decade. Besides, refugees can move freely once they can arrive in the U.S.

All those votes may have been for nothing after all. On Jan. 15, a federal judge placed an injunction on the executive order, halting its implementation and leaving the future of county control over refugee resettlement uncertain.

Resettlement rules

In the United States, refugees are resettled through coordination between the U.S. Department of State and nine resettlement nonprofits that operate through local affiliates to help newcomers settle in (an explanation of the process can be found here).

The executive order, issued in September, would give states and counties an unprecedented role in that process by requiring resettlement agencies to get state and county permission in order to place refugees.

The order was scheduled to take effect June 1, but many counties sought to make decisions before Jan. 21 in order to give resettlement agencies the green light before their deadline to apply for federal funding. Under the executive order, counties are required to opt in to allow refugee resettlement, so not voting would be effectively the same as voting “no.” (MinnPost is aware of one county, Morrison, that has decided not to vote.)

On Jan. 15, a federal judge in Maryland placed a preliminary injunction on the executive order, barring it from taking effect for the time being. U.S. District Judge Peter Messitte argued the order violated statute, judicial precedent and practice. The Trump Administration released a statement disagreeing with the judge’s decision. It called Messitte’s court “another lawless district court” asserting its preferred immigration policy. It’s not yet clear whether the administration will appeal.

Postponing votes

For now, the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program will operate as it did prior to the executive order, according to the Minnesota Department of Human Services. The injunction will remain in place until there’s a final legal decision on the fate of the executive order. If the administration appeals and is unsuccessful, the status quo will continue and the Department of State will continue to coordinate with nonprofits to resettle refugees. If the administration appeals and wins, the executive order will go into effect and counties will have to give their permission.

In light of the injunction, many Minnesota counties that had planned to discuss or vote on the refugee resettlement question have decided to postpone their votes, and in some cases, discussions.

Stearns County, which has resettled the second largest number of refugees per capita in the last decade, had discussed the executive order on Jan. 7, tabling their vote until later.

Because of the injunction, that vote won’t happen. Instead, “it’s on the consent agenda just to postpone indefinitely. Our board won’t be taking any action on it,” said county administrator Michael Williams. Since a refugee resettlement agency that had requested permission from the county to resettle refugees withdrew its request after the injunction, there’s no longer a reason to vote.

“I don’t know that it’s a written policy, but we don’t do resolutions, or things that aren’t directly related to our programs or our budgets or our business,” Williams said.

In Martin County, in south-central Minnesota, the county attorney’s office advised commissioners not to take a vote on refugee resettlement scheduled for Tuesday in light of the injunction.

Benton County, in Central Minnesota, had planned to discuss refugee resettlement Tuesday, but the board removed the item from the agenda following the injunction.

“I guess if the issue comes back, we’ll address it,” Montgomery Headley, the county administrator, told MinnPost.

Ken Fritz, the administrator of southeastern Minnesota’s Winona County, said the county will wait for the results of the injunction to make any decision.

He said it would use county time and resources to have a public hearing “when the question might be moot depending on what happens with the injunction.”

East central Minnesota’s Pine County discussed refugee resettlement Tuesday, but took no action and has not scheduled further discussion, according to county administrator David Minke.

In a heated county commissioner meeting Tuesday, Koochiching County residents discussed resettlement but took no action, the International Falls Journal reported.

A vote scheduled for Tuesday in Douglas County (county seat: Alexandria) was removed from the agenda after the injunction, said Heather Schlangen, county coordinator. Lyon County (Marshall) will hold a community meeting next Tuesday to discuss resettlement but will not vote on the issue until the injunction is resolved, per county administrator Loren Stromberg.

Comments (14)

  1. Submitted by Kevin Schumacher on 01/25/2020 - 03:26 pm.

    The pathological man that is president made an executive edict designed to make it more difficult for people seeking asylum to do so. Putting aside Republican bluster about Obama governing by executive order, it is clear to me that trump had no humane motives in setting this up. Even so, as a liberal, I think it will work out in the long run, regardless of trumps motives, evil as they are. If I were a refugee, I would not want to be settled in a space that is hostile to me as I have fled hostility already, and don’t really need more. Let people of the counties state publicly, their view of how humans should be treated, and their willingness to include or exclude humans in dire need of a simple result, that being a safe place to live.

    We have already found out that Beltrami County is not that place.

    • Submitted by joe smith on 01/26/2020 - 07:42 am.

      Kevin, you are absolutely correct, if folks don’t want the refugees in their community, the refugees shouldn’t want to live there. That is why you have a vote and let the counties and communities decide. Having some elitist in DC deciding where to send refugees makes no sense. Add in that the relocation agencies (Lutheran Services) get paid over $1,800k per refugee relocated and you have an monetary incentive to put folks wherever they can.

      • Submitted by Kevin Schumacher on 01/26/2020 - 12:12 pm.

        Ah, DC elitists and LSS are to blame eh. Sadly those attributions mirror the hostility of Beltrami County and do not address any humanitarian issues related to refugees.

        • Submitted by joe smith on 01/28/2020 - 08:04 pm.

          No, either local folks will or will not have a say as to whether refugees are resettled in their community. If local citizens (you know those folks paying taxes) don’t have a say, who should? Folks not living in that community should not have a say, as it is now.

          • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 01/29/2020 - 02:17 pm.

            You can make that same argument against any newcomers moving into a community. Shall we allow local votes on whether to allow Latinos or African Americans to move in?

            I would ask if there should be a local vote before allowing Native Americans to move in, but the irony there is far too obvious.

      • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 01/26/2020 - 10:15 pm.

        Yep we can change one word and make a full 100% WASP society:
        if folks don’t want the (XXXX) in their community, the (XXXX) shouldn’t want to live there. Your (YYYY) is showing!

  2. Submitted by Connor OKeefe on 01/27/2020 - 07:45 am.

    “Besides, refugees can move freely once they can arrive in the U.S.”

    Yes, but the economic migrants that make up the overwhelming majority of “refugees” coming to the US now want to be close to the government subsidies and social service programs that attracts them.

    Those that move will undoubtedly do so for employment, which negates the need for strapped count

  3. Submitted by Connor OKeefe on 01/27/2020 - 07:46 am.

    Those that move will undoubtedly do so for employment, which negates the need for strapped counties to provide ongoing support.

    • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 01/27/2020 - 09:51 am.

      Your point is what? As you hail the great Trump economy (best of the best of the best ever) there is no room at the inn for a few in need? For the richest country on the planet. And what form of Christianity is that? (UUUU)

  4. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 01/27/2020 - 08:15 am.

    Given the fact that refugees are never diverted into counties or cities that can’t support them, these counties may as well be voting whether or not to build a stairway to heaven. Those who vote to keep refugees that are not on the way from moving in, are simply putting their ignorance and intolerance on display.

    Jason Lewis is a moron who will lose to Tina Smith.

    • Submitted by Connor OKeefe on 01/27/2020 - 04:45 pm.

      I can remember when lefties were saying Minnesota didn’t need a constitutional amendment because there was already a law in place.

      When the Democrats took control of the legislature the next year was rescind the law and pass another that did exactly what they said wouldn’t happen.

      Preemptive legislation is preventative legislation.

    • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 01/30/2020 - 07:17 pm.

      You know, the argument looks like, the metro should stop allowing out state folks looking for a better life from settling in and eating up the local Human Services budget!

  5. Submitted by Steve Timmer on 01/27/2020 - 08:06 pm.

    This whole business is nothing more than an election-year wedge issue, like Paul Gazelka’s gun and voter photo ID agenda. Even Gazelka doesn’t think these things are going to happen. It’s just a silly echo in the Capitol.

    Gazelka’s base is getting older, smaller (for that reason), and weaker. They’re giving the metro area, which really pays the freight in the state, less and less reason to care about them.

    That’s harsh, but it’s true.

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