More than half of Minnesota voters say they support the resettlement of refugees in their communities and believe that immigrants mostly boost the economy, a Star Tribune/MPR News Minnesota Poll found.
Fifty-nine percent of those polled said they favor refugee resettlement, while 29% oppose accepting new refugees in their areas.
But a slight majority of registered voters in the state also oppose letting residents who are in the U.S. illegally obtain driver’s licenses, one of the top legislative agendas of Democratic state lawmakers and DFL Gov. Tim Walz. Altogether, 51% of those polled oppose driver’s licenses for residents here illegally, while 41% support the idea.
The poll found stark divisions along party lines for questions related to immigration policy. More than 8 in 10 registered Democrats support refugee resettlement, as well as 60% of those who identify as independents or have other party affiliations. Opposition was strongest among Republicans, with 56% saying they oppose resettling new refugees in their communities, an issue brought to the forefront this year by President Donald Trump, who vowed to give communities a greater say in refugee resettlement.
On driver’s licenses, 68% of Democrats polled support licenses for residents here illegally, while 86% of Republicans said they are opposed. Nearly half (48%) of independents and those without major party affiliations remain opposed.
The DFL-led Minnesota House approved legislation last year that would grant driver’s licenses to those immigrants, but the measure was blocked in the Republican-controlled Senate.
Six in 10 poll respondents also said that, on the whole, immigrants mostly help the economy. Eighty-one percent of Democrats polled responded favorably. Among Republicans, 37% said immigrants help, while 42% said that they mostly hurt the economy.
Sixty-four percent of independents and other voters reported that they believed immigrants are mostly beneficial to the economy.
Nate Tyler, a 32-year-old freelance copywriter in Elk River, cited the Statue of Liberty’s inscription: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” He said that underscores his support for accepting new refugees in his community.
“They’re trying to escape war-torn places … and if nobody’s willing to take them in, then they literally have no place to go,” Tyler said. “I say, let them come. I mean, we were all immigrants at some point.”
Melanie Hess, a 47-year-old stay-at-home mom in Coon Rapids, said that getting to know immigrant and refugee families through her children’s school showed her the strengths of having a more diverse community.
“Not everybody’s a terrorist. If they can get a second chance at life and contribute to our society in a peaceful manner, then I don’t think it’s a problem at all,” she said. She added that diversity in schools “helps our kids learn more and we learn more.”
But Hess does oppose giving driver’s licenses to immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally.
“That’s tricky,” she said. “The fact that we pay taxes and we have to do all this stuff to be citizens — I support equality for everybody, but they should have to fill out all the paperwork.”
The Star Tribune/MPR News Poll was conducted Feb. 17-19 and included 800 registered Minnesota voters. Its margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
Hennepin and Ramsey counties represented the only region where a majority of voters said they favor letting immigrants who are here illegally obtain driver’s licenses (56%), while most respondents from the metro suburbs (60%), northern Minnesota (60%) and southern Minnesota (57%) oppose the proposal.
Support for refugee resettlement was highest in Hennepin and Ramsey counties (74%), but the policy has broad support statewide: More than half of voters from northern Minnesota (54%) and the metro suburbs (52%) are in favor, as are 49% of respondents from southern Minnesota.
In the Twin Cities, 74% of voters said immigrants mostly help the economy, as did 60% in the metro suburbs, 54% in southern Minnesota and 51% in northern Minnesota.
Earlier this year, Beltrami County became the state’s first and one of the few nationwide to vote to reject taking in new refugees.
The vote came after a Trump executive order requiring state and local jurisdictions to formally affirm or deny whether to accept new refugees.
Trump used an October 2019 rally in Minneapolis to blame the “large numbers” of resettled Somalis in Minnesota for adverse impacts on “schools and communities and taxpayers.”
In response, Walz notified the Trump administration last December that the state would permit new refugees, invoking the biblical story of the Nativity: “The inn is not full in Minnesota.”