A high-ranking Minnesota lawmaker is threatening to withhold state aid from Beltrami County after it became the first county in the state to opt out of refugee resettlement.
The Beltrami County Board of Commissioners passed a motion in a 3-2 vote Tuesday night to refuse refugee resettlement. The vote makes Beltrami County, which includes the city of Bemidji, the first county in Minnesota to reject refugee resettlement and one of just a handful in the nation to do so.
The vote comes in response to a September 26 executive order from President Donald Trump, which sought to give counties and states more control over their involvement in refugee resettlement. According to the executive order, if a state or locality does not provide explicit consent, then refugees “should not be resettled” in those communities.
As such, simply not voting on the issue at all would have achieved the same outcome, but Commissioner Reed Olson said “it would have been cowardly” not to take a vote.
“I don’t want my vote to be assumed by the State Department,” said Olson, according to a video of Tuesday night’s meeting from The Bemidji Pioneer. “This is not my idea. This is an executive order from the President of the United States, that all 3,000 and some counties need to respond.”
An estimated crowd of 200-300 residents gathered for the meeting and cheered when the motion was passed. Commissioner Tim Sumner joined Olson in voting against the measure, while Commissioners Craig Gaasvig, Richard Anderson, and Jim Lucachick voted in favor.
The vote set off a flurry of reactions from state politicians on social media, including House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (DFL-Golden Valley), who threatened to withhold state aid from Beltrami County.
“Minnesota counties that want state aid funded in part by taxes paid by immigrants and refugees should consider votes like these. Beltrami County received a state bailout in 2019 but three commissioners voted like they are an island,” Winkler said on Twitter.
MN counties that want state aid funded in part by taxes paid by immigrants and refugees should reconsider votes like these. Beltrami County received a state bailout in 2019 but 3 commissioners vote like they are an island. https://t.co/IlOU6SdGhU
— Ryan Winkler (@_RyanWinkler) January 7, 2020
Winkler noted that the state “decides what the counties’ human services obligations are,” meaning the Minnesota Legislature is “free to add a refugee provision at any time.”
Not in statute that I know of. But the state decides what the counties’ human services obligations are, and is free to add a refugee provision at any time. My proposal is how the system works. https://t.co/xfuCcXKCx2
— Ryan Winkler (@_RyanWinkler) January 8, 2020
“If the Beltrami County board wants to withdraw from the state and not accept refugees, why should the rest of the state help them? It’s my home county, and this vote does not represent the values of the community that raised me,” he added.
If the Beltrami County board wants to withdraw from the state and not accept refugees, why should the rest of the state help them? It’s my home county, and this vote does not represent the values of the community that raised me. https://t.co/AlDkbS2kqS
— Ryan Winkler (@_RyanWinkler) January 8, 2020
John Hinderaker, president of the Center of the American Experiment, issued a statement Wednesday in response to Winkler’s comments.
“This threat to Greater Minnesota is a rare moment of honesty from one of the DFL’s most powerful state leaders,” he said. “The urban/rural divide is not only real, it’s driven by liberal politicians who look down on Minnesotans who don’t agree with them, and will punish them for their independence by any means necessary.”
Minnesota House Speaker Melissa Hortman (DFL-Brooklyn Park) published a December op-ed in The Star Tribune calling the state’s urban-rural divide a “myth,” saying her party was “hard at work with Minnesotans building a state that works better for all of us.”
Gov. Tim Walz sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in December to offer Minnesota’s consent to participation in the refugee resettlement program.
“As the holiday season approaches, we are reminded of the importance of welcoming all who seek shelter. The inn is not full in Minnesota,” Walz said in his letter.
Under President Trump’s executive order, refugee resettlement requires the consent of both the state and the county.
Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN-05) weighed in on the news out of Beltrami County in a Wednesday morning tweet.
“This is deeply disheartening. Minnesotans have a history of welcoming refugees with open arms. Now, Beltrami is giving them a clenched fist,” she said. “I’m proud that my home county—Hennepin—voted overwhelmingly to continue being a home for those fleeing oppression.”
This is deeply disheartening. Minnesotans have a history of welcoming refugees with open arms. Now, Beltrami is giving them a clenched fist.
I'm proud that my home county—Hennepin—voted overwhelmingly to continue being a home for those fleeing oppression. https://t.co/wr4EUhJ0hD
— Rep. Ilhan Omar (@Ilhan) January 8, 2020
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Anthony Gockowski is managing editor of The Minnesota Sun and The Ohio Star. Follow Anthony on Twitter. Email tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Background Photo “Beltrami County Judicial Center” by Tony Webster. CC BY-SA 2.0.