City leaders across Minnesota are passing “welcoming” resolutions in an effort to send a message that their communities are inclusive amid growing national tension around the issue of immigration.
City councils in Willmar and St. Joseph, two central Minnesota cities that are becoming increasingly diverse, are expected to discuss resolutions Monday. The measures don’t change policy but are considered symbolic.
“This resolution will just tell everybody ‘We want you in Willmar,’ ” Mayor Marv Calvin said, adding he expects the resolution will pass.
“Willmar’s strength is in its diversity,” Calvin said. “If people feel they’re not welcome to a community, that’s detrimental to economic development.”
Willmar, a city of nearly 20,000 residents two hours west of Minneapolis, has long had a large Latino population. In recent years, it has also seen a growing number of immigrants from East African nations. Calvin said the newcomers have helped the city flourish with new businesses.
But the resolution isn’t meant just for immigrants and first-generation Americans. It also is designed to send a message to people who were born in Willmar or used to live there that they should return, he said.
“Willmar is open for business,” he added.
In St. Joseph, residents formed a group called Cultural Bridges more than a year ago to build connections, especially between Christians and Muslims and the town’s Somali refugees and longtime residents after a Somali man stabbed 10 people at the Crossroads Center mall in nearby St. Cloud in 2016. Since then, the group has taught adult basic education classes, provided homework tutoring and launched a jobs search program for Somali immigrants.
The group will ask the City Council on Monday to consider a welcoming resolution. It also plans to post fliers affirming inclusivity after white nationalist posters were plastered across the city illegally.
“The City Council has a great opportunity. … This is not something that should be met with silence,” said Raj Chaphalkar, a member of the group. “It may seem obvious, but sometimes we need leaders to say [these words] out loud. This is a good place to be for everybody.”
St. Joseph is home to 6,700 residents and the College of St. Benedict, which issued a statement with neighboring St. John’s University saying it was committed to embracing diversity.
Similar city measures are popping up from the Twin Cities to Moorhead, which passed a resolution last September celebrating diversity. A month later, St. Cloud city leaders passed a similar resolution, countering a council member’s proposal for a moratorium on refugee resettlement, which later failed to pass.
Not all welcoming measures have passed.
The Hutchinson City Council voted one down by a 3-2 margin in December, with members saying the city, 60 miles west of Minneapolis, is already welcoming. Council Member John Lofdahl introduced the resolution. Hutchinson isn’t as racially diverse as other communities, but he said it will change in time.
“People weren’t ready for it. We’re a very homogeneous community,” he said. “Hopefully the discussion keeps going.”