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Wright County News

Posted on: January 22, 2020

County Board Tables Discussion of Refugee Resettlement Amid Legal Battle In Federal Court

An Executive Order issued September 26, 2019 by President Donald Trump requiring state and local governments to provide official consent to allow refugee resettlement in their jurisdictions has been the source of nationwide discussion over the last four months.

Under the Executive Order, not only would the governor of a state have to respond whether or not to allow consent – Texas Governor Greg Abbott became the first governor to refuse consent to accept refugees – but would also require the chief executive officers of counties within a state to approve or deny refugees to be resettled in their jurisdictions.

The question of refugee resettlement came up on the Jan. 21 agenda of the Wright County Board of Commissioners, but any local determination of whether or not to give consent or not was tabled. On Jan. 15 temporary injunction was granted in the U.S. District Court of Appeals in Maryland that has laid over the requirement for state and local jurisdictions to vote the matter up or down.

In December, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz provided consent on behalf of the state. At the time of the Jan. 15 injunction, one Minnesota county (Beltrami) had voted to deny refugee resettlement and 24 had authorized consent – Blue Earth, Brown, Clay, Cook, Dakota, Dodge, Fillmore, Goodhue, Hennepin, Kandiyohi, Mower, Murray, Nicollet, Nobles, Olmsted, Otter Tail, Pipestone, Pope, Ramsey, Redwood, Rice, Sherburne, Steele and Washington counties.

The appeals court injunction effectively stops the requirement of answering the refugee resettlement question while the matter plays out through the courts. Until the matter is resolved, the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program will continue to operate as it had prior to the Executive Order in September.

While the issue has been a hot-button topic in some states and counties, it hasn’t been an issue in Wright County. Over the last five federal fiscal years (FFY 2015-19), of the 8,128 primary refugee arrivals to Minnesota, only 20 (0.0025 percent) have arrived in Wright County with just three in the last three years and one in the last two years.

Wright County Board Chair Christine Husom said that she and her fellow commissioners have received comments from constituents on both sides of the issue and felt more time was needed to study the pros and cons of the decision.

“There are so many unanswered questions and a lot of people have a lot of confusion about what this is,” Husom said.

Commissioner Darek Vetsch countered that the discussion was rendered moot by the federal injunction and that any input from Wright County should be put on hold until the matter is resolved in federal court.

“I don’t want to take too much staff time and time in general for something that likely, depending on what the courts do with, may be futile for any discussion that we have at this point,” Vetsch said. “I think it’s best that we leave it alone and see what the courts decide on it. At that point, there will be some clarity to it and we will be making a decision based on that clarity.”

The board heard from Buffalo resident Eric Fredrickson, who said it has been a topic of discussion among Wright County residents and asked that, if the matter is going to be brought to a vote, that the public be informed and allowed to participate in the meeting to let their views be heard.

“I know there’s a lot of interest in this,” Fredrickson said. “If you guys table this, if you could make a public meeting and have some announcement of that so people can come. That way, there is going to be a good decision with plenty of input.”

Commissioner Mike Potter took that request one step further, asking that, if the matter needs to be voted on at some point, the commissioners conduct a night meeting so more residents will be able to attend and invite Rachele King, State Refugee Coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Human Services, to attend and answer questions and concerns residents on both sides of the issue may have.

Potter said his biggest question is whether there will be the potential loss of federal funding if a county votes “no” on the refugee resettlement question – much in the same way the federal government in the 1970s threatened to withhold critical federal transportation funding for states the refused to comply with the 55 mph speed limit mandate. 

“I always look at these things when you get pushed with ultimatums, if you say ‘yes’ or you say ‘no,’ what does it mean?” Potter said.

Vetsch said that, the way the courts system works at the federal level, it could be as long as a year before a ruling is made that either makes the temporary injunction permanent or reinstates Executive Order 13888 and continues the process of state and local governments being required to consent or not consent to accept resettled refugees.

“We’re likely 12 months out from anything,” Vetsch said. “By the time it goes through the courts, it will probably be appealed. Until the appeals process is done, we’re probably a year out from any kind of public hearing or any kind of decision and that’s if it’s a (court) decision that brings it back to us for a decision. I just don’t want anybody with any inclination thinking that it will be back here in the next 30 to 60 days. That’s very unlikely.”

For those interested in learning more about the refugee resettlement issue, here is a link to the Association of Minnesota Counties’ County Library and Information Center. There are nine document links on the page, including Minnesota county refugee data, a question-and-answer letter from King, a policy brief from the Minnesota Department of Human Services, President Trump’s Executive Order, five-year county-by-county refugee data and national refugee data:

http://www.mncounties.org/information_and_jobs/county_library_and_information_center/health_and_human_services/index.php#revize_document_center_rz373  

To read the 31-page decision from the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, click the following link:

https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/6656673-Messitte-HAIS-ORDER.html  

 

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