Minnesota has a proud tradition of welcoming immigrants — particularly refugees. Over the decades Minnesotans have helped Hmong, Somalis, Liberians and others make a fresh start, and this state has benefited.
Though Minnesota has the sixth-highest refugee rate in the country, the actual numbers are fairly modest — 43,208 since 2001, in a state of 5.6 million, according to the U.S. State Department. In return for making a little room for them, refugees have proved, overall, a bountiful investment. A 2017 draft report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that refugee-owned businesses generated $4.6 billion in income nationally, and that refugees contributed $63 billion more in tax revenue than they received in public benefits in the preceding decade. That’s a good return on investment by any standard.
That’s why it’s disheartening and maddening that President Donald Trump continues his war on one of the world’s most vulnerable populations: refugees fleeing war, torture, persecution and worse. Not content with capping admission rates at a record low of 18,000, Trump has added a malicious twist with an executive order that requires states and localities to give advance written authorization before receiving new refugees.
“State and local governments are best positioned to know the resources and capacities they may or may not have available to devote to sustainable resettlement,” Trump said in the order. That’s one way to frame it. But such an approach does a clever double duty for a president who has made no secret of his dislike of immigrants. It turns every county, every city into a battleground over admitting refugees. Even if a state provides authorization, any county within its borders can opt to refuse new refugees.
It is a move designed to foment division, as it did in Burleigh County, North Dakota, which briefly leapt into the national spotlight when it nearly became the first community in the United States to avail itself of the ability to shut the door on refugees. What prompted this action in a quiet county of fewer than 100,000 people, with low poverty and a labor shortage?
Bismarck Mayor Steve Bakken said in a recent interview that it was a “question of purse strings, not heart strings. ... We have burgeoning school enrollment, veterans’ needs, homeless needs and Native American needs.” His argument falls apart a bit with the knowledge that Bismarck accepted a total of 24 refugees this year and 22 the year before. After a bitterly controversial public meeting that drew hundreds, the County Board narrowly voted down the ban, though it capped its refugee limit at 25.
The idea that this hurtful, xenophobic scenario could play out in every county of every state in America is too exhausting to contemplate and could result in a patchwork of immigration policies that differ in every local jurisdiction.
We applaud Gov. Tim Walz for rejecting this nonsense wholesale and for his forceful declaration of Minnesota values in his letter to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that stated, “Minnesota has a strong moral tradition of welcoming those who seek refuge. ... They are critical to the success of our economy.” Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison followed by joining a 12-state court brief supporting resettlement organizations fighting the order.
“It’s an open invitation to bigotry,” Ellison told an editorial writer. “I’m proud to say the state and Kandiyohi and Olmsted counties have sent letters of consent.” Ellison said he expects more but noted that “not responding does not indicate a county’s support of the executive order. We won’t be drawn into that game.”