BEMIDJI -- Comments and statements are still coming in from local organizations and institutions regarding last week's vote of the Beltrami County Commission on refugee resettlement.

On Tuesday, Jan. 7, the Beltrami County Board of Commissioners voted 3-2 to opt out of the United States Refugee Resettlement Program. The action was made possible through an executive order from President Donald Trump in September.

The vote taken by the board was one of two ways the commissioners could've opted out of the program, as taking no action is interpreted as declining, too. The executive order allows willing counties to vote and approve opting into the program.

While the order doesn't take effect until June, though, resettlement affiliates and nonprofits are required to submit their placement strategies to the U.S. State Department by Jan. 31. To meet the deadline, the board took the vote in front of a crowd of at least 200 people.

Voting in favor of the motion to opt out were Commissioners Richard Anderson, Craig Gaasvig and Jim Lucachick. Against the motion were Commissioners Reed Olson and Tim Sumner.

In the days following the vote, BSU President Faith Hensrud sent a message to students, faculty and staff, in which she stated it is "appropriate to reaffirm our commitment to our shared fundamental values.

"This is especially appropriate in light of a recent action taken... by the Beltrami County Board of Commissioners when they opted out of accepting resettlement by a vote of 3-2," Hensrud wrote in her statement. "I write to assure you Bemidji State University is firmly committed to the success of all BSU community members - including our immigrant and international students, faculty and staff we are so fortunate to welcome onto our campus, and, in many cases, into our homes each year."

Hensrud continued by referencing BSU's shared fundamental values, including the promotion of global and multicultural understanding.

"These values are unwavering and are a vital aspect of our shared mission to instill and promote respect and appreciation for the diverse peoples of our region and our world," Hensrud stated. "Rest assured, Bemidji State University will stay true to our values and will enthusiastically advocate for the success and well-being of all members of our community, wherever they may reside - in the Bemidji region or across the globe."

Bemidji State University President Faith Hensrud
Bemidji State University President Faith Hensrud

Hensrud added, "this recent vote creates opportunity for us to lead by example, to illustrate through our words and actions our determination to see that every human being living in our communities is treated fairly, and is afforded the opportunity to live with dignity and respect."

On social media, the Concordia Language Villages, located just north of Bemidji and operated by Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn., stated "Our educational philosophy is grounded in respect, tolerance and acceptance. We continue in that spirit and welcome individuals of all backgrounds to all of our programs, many based near Bemidji, Minnesota.

The statement continued with, "We affirm an inclusive worldview, and applaud those who support this in our local communities throughout the state."

Headwaters Unitarian Universalist Fellowship Church sent a statement to the Pioneer announcing its opposition to the 3-2 vote.

The church affirmed "unconditional, universal love as a foundation and grounding for our actions in the world. We strive to be of service to our communities and advocate for change on local, state, national and international levels. We side with and support the resettlement of refugees in northern Minnesota."

In a response to the high volume of comments made about last week's meeting, commissioner Anderson sent a letter to the Pioneer on Tuesday, Jan. 14, citing the county's difficult financial situation and the inability to meet the needs of refugees properly as reasons for his no vote.

"Immigrants are still welcomed in Beltrami County, but at a level they can be supported," Anderson wrote. "My grandparents were immigrants. I'm proud to be a grandson of immigrants. I will continue to work for justice for all people."