Beltrami County commissioners became the first in the state and second in the nation to vote against allowing the placement of refugees in its community.
In a slate of other rural counties around the state, as well as Hennepin County, officials agreed to allow the placement of more refugees in their communities, bumping up the number of Minnesota counties willing to take in more people displaced by war, persecution or natural disasters.
In Duluth, members of the public weighed in for nearly three hours before commissioners on a narrow vote opted to put off a decision until May. And Stearns County commissioners that represent the St. Cloud area also opted to wait to vote on whether they'd give consent.
These were a few of the scenes around the state on Tuesday, Jan. 7, as county commissions started conversations about allowing refugees to resettle in their communities. The discussions drove hundreds to turn out to voice their opinions on the subject or to make a showing in meetings where members of the public weren't able to testify.
The debates come after President Donald Trump in September signed Executive Order 13888. The order requires states and counties to notify the State Department, in writing, whether they will consent to receive refugees from the department's Reception and Placement Program.
Gov. Tim Walz last month sent a letter to the department saying the state would continue resettling refugees in counties that approve their placements. And counties even before the governor signed off began casting votes to allow additional refugees to join their communities.
"Our state has always stepped forward to help those who are fleeing desperate situations and need a safe place to call home," Walz, the first-term DFL governor, wrote in his letter to the State Department.
Several counties in the region quickly took up the issue days into the new year in an effort to submit to federal officials their applications to resettle refugees ahead of a key deadline. Local resettlement groups must have their placement plans to the U.S. State Department before the end of January. And state and county actions could determine where resettlements decide to resettle refugees in their initial placements.
Refugees, including family members of those already living in Minnesota, will be placed under the president's executive order as of June 1 barring intervention from the courts. Trump has placed a cap on refugees to be accepted by the U.S. at 18,000 for 2020, a historic low and a 40% decrease from the year prior.
The Minnesota Department of Human Services reports that 775 refugees have been placed in Minnesota in 2019, down from placement totals in years prior. And of those placed last year, the bulk of the refugees came from Myanmar and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Sixty-seven of those placed in Minnesota last year came from Somalia and 69 came from Ukraine.
Refugee resettlement agencies around the country have challenged Trump's executive order, alleging it violates federal law. Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison in December announced that he had joined a lawsuit with 12 other states challenging the order on the basis that it violates the Refugee Act of 1980.
"A person's rights shouldn't vary from county to county, from city to city, from block to block. They should be the same," Ellison told reporters at the Capitol on Wednesday. "We believe that the United States is a generous welcoming place particularly for people who are fleeing peril."
Some county residents and commissioners on Tuesday argued additional placements, even if there were few, could pull needed county resources from those already living in the area. And others worried refugee populations wouldn't assimilate to new surroundings in the state.
"As a representative of my part of the county, and considering the current state of affairs in our county, I don't feel it's prudent to bring refugees to our county," Beltrami County Commissioner Jim Lucachick said. "When we need to take care of all the issues we have now."
But proponents around the state, including in Beltrami County, said communities should welcome refugees.
"I think most of the people here today are re-settlers," Commissioner Tim Sumner, a member of the Red Lake Nation, said. "It just seems un-American to me to say that 'You're not welcome.'"
The move to block refugee placements after the county has taken zero refugees in the last five years sparked a call from a top legislative leader to block local government funding.
Local lawmakers and conservative groups said the threat was unfair and local leaders should have the freedom to make choices without the fear of retribution from the state.
Here's a look at the counties that have taken up the debate, and those planning to do so this month. (UPDATED WEDNESDAY, JAN. 15 at 1:30 P.M.)
Becker County Committee members are set to take up the measure this month, a county administrator said. And the county commission likely will take action in March.
Beltrami County Commissioners on Tuesday, Jan. 7, voted to 3-2 against allowing the resettlement of refugees in the community, making it the first in the state to oppose the placement of . County officials said there are no current requests to relocate refugees there. The decision comes a day after a crowd of residents with strong opinions on the issue attended a Bemidji City Council meeting Monday and attempted to weigh on the issue there.
Blue Earth County
Blue Earth County commissioners in December voted to allow additional placements in their community.
Brown County commissioners late last month voted unanimously to accept the placement of refugees in the county.
The Clay County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously on Dec. 17, to allow refugee resettlement to continue in the area and members noted that refugees should feel welcome in the community.
Cook County commissioners on Jan. 14, voted unanimously to accept additional refugee placements.
Dakota County administrators on Tuesday, Jan. 7, voted to allow for refugee placements in the community.
Dodge County officials are expected to take up the issue at a meeting later this month.
Goodhue County Committee of the Whole on Tuesday, Jan. 7, voted 3-2 to consent to allow the placement of additional refugees in the county.
The Hennepin County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday, Jan. 7, voted 6-1 to allow for the placement of refugees in their community.
Members of the Kandiyohi County Commission in December were the first in the state to vote in support of allowing the continued placement of refugees in the area on a 3-2 vote. Members of the Willmar City Council followed with a resolution issuing their support for continued refugee placements.
Constituents in Lyon County packed a commission meeting, causing members to delay a vote on whether to consent to allow additional refugee placements on Tuesday, Jan. 7. The Commission is set to hold a special meeting on the issue on Jan. 28.
Mower County Commissioners this week voted unanimously to allow the placement of additional refugees in their community.
Murray County commissioners on Tuesday, Jan. 7, approved a letter of consent, allowing more refugees to be placed within the county.
Nicollet County commissioners last month granted consent to allowing additional refugee placements in the region.
Nobles County commissioners on Tuesday, Jan. 7, voted to approve a letter of consent, agreeing to additional refugees being placed within their community.
The three members of Olmsted County's administrative committee in December said they support sending a letter of consent allowing for the continued to the placement of refugees in the area. The unanimous support of the panel is the only requirement to send the letter, county officials said.
Otter Tail County
Otter Tail County Commissioners on Dec. 16 voted to consent to additional placements of refugees in the area, allowing refugees, including refugees with family members in Minnesota to be placed there.
Pipestone County officials voted to approve additional refugee placements during their commission meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 7.
Ramsey County commissioners on Tuesday, Jan. 14 voted unanimously to accept additional refugees. The county resettled more refugees than any other in the state last year.
Rice County commissioners earlier this month voted to certify that the county could take in additional refugees.
Scott County commissioners are set to take up their plans for potential placement at their Feb. 4 meeting.
Sherburne County administrators in December opted to allow additional resettlements under the executive order.
County commissioners in Stearns County on Tuesday, Jan. 7, opted to delay action on the resolution. The commission tabled the proposal. Members are set to take it up again at a meeting later this month.
Steele County commissioners have agreed to send a letter to the State Department authorizing the placement of refugees in the area, according to the Minnesota Department of Human Services.
St. Louis County
Members of the St. Louis County Commission on Tuesday, Jan. 7, voted 4-3 to delay action on a proposal to allow the continuation of refugee resettlement in the region until May. The narrow vote to hold over the conversation came after more than two hours of public testimony.
Winona County officials are expected to take up the issue at a meeting later this month.