Governor on refugees: ‘The inn is not full in Minnesota’

Published 10:00 pm Friday, December 13, 2019

MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota state government will continue to consent to refugee resettlement, Gov. Tim Walz said Friday, in response to a recent presidential executive order that requires consent from states and counties.

“The inn is not full in Minnesota,” the Democratic governor said in a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo just ahead of the Christmas holiday.

Walz also said he rejects the intent of the executive order and reserves the state’s right to challenge its requirements.

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“Minnesota has a strong moral tradition of welcoming those who seek refuge,” he wrote. “Our state has always stepped forward to help those who are fleeing desperate situations and need a safe place to call home. In keeping with this proud history, I offer my consent to continue refugee resettlement in the State of Minnesota.”

Minnesota has the country’s largest Somali and Karen populations, the second-largest Hmong population and one of the largest Liberian populations — all made up of people who fled their war-torn homelands and their descendants. According to State Department data, Minnesota ranks sixth in the country for refugee arrivals since 2001, accepting over 43,000 individuals.

The city of Minneapolis also responded to Trump’s order Friday when its mayor and city council approved a resolution affirming a pledge to be a welcoming city that strongly supports the resettlement of refugees. The resolution also affirmed the city’s opposition to the Trump administration’s cuts to the number of refugees admitted into the U.S.

Under President Donald Trump’s executive order from September, state and local governments must consent to allowing refugee resettlement, giving governors, county boards and city governments the chance to decide how welcoming they will be. Kandiyohi County in west-central Minnesota apparently became the state’s first county to consent last week, while others are still waiting to decide.

In North Dakota, Burleigh County agreed Monday to accept no more than 25 refugees next year after initially signaling it would become what refuge resettlement groups believed would have been the first local government in the country to block refugees altogether. Burleigh is home to about 95,000 people and includes the capital city of Bismarck. The county board voted after North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum last month said his state would continue to receive refugees — as long as local jurisdictions agree.

Trump’s order said the administration was respecting communities that can’t take in refugees. He announced the change at the same time that his administration cut the number of refugees the U.S. would accept from 30,000 this year to 18,000 in 2020, the lowest level since Congress passed the Refugee Act of 1980. Three national resettlement groups have sued to block Trump’s order.

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison announced late Friday afternoon that he has joined a coalition of 12 attorneys general — led by California, Illinois and Maryland — in filing an amicus brief in support of that lawsuit. He called the president’s order “illegal and immoral.” The brief argues that the order violates the Refugee Act and interferes with each state’s prerogative to set statewide policy on resettlement.

No governor has threatened to use the new power to ban resettlement.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer also wrote to Pompeo this week to express her state’s consent.

“We recognize the value of being a welcoming state, and the contribution of refugees to the fabric of our communities,” Whitmer said in a letter that she released Friday.

Walz said refugees strengthen and diversify communities for the better.

“Refugees are doctors and bus drivers. They are entrepreneurs and police officers. They are students and teachers,” he said. “They are our neighbors.”