BEMIDJI -- Nearly a week after Beltrami County opted out of the United States Refugee Resettlement Program in a 3-2 vote, a federal judge temporarily halted all such actions across the country.
In September, President Donald Trump signed an executive order allowing state and local governments interested in the refugee resettlement programs to opt-in. Government units not willing to be in the program, meanwhile, were authorized to decline by either taking no action, or holding a formal recorded vote.
On Jan. 7, the Beltrami County Board did the latter, with Commissioners Richard Anderson, Craig Gaasvig and Jim Lucachick voting in favor of opting out of the resettlement program. Voting against the motion to do so were Commissioners Reed Olson and Tim Sumner.
While the order doesn't take effect until June, resettlement affiliates and nonprofits were required to submit their placement strategies to the State Department by Jan. 31.
However, on Wednesday Jan. 15, U.S. District Judge Peter Messitte of Maryland temporarily halted the president's executive order. According to The Washington Post, the ruling was in response to a lawsuit filed by three refugee resettlement agencies that work with the State Department.
In December, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison signed an amicus brief supporting the challenge to the Trump Administration's order. Following Judge Messitte's action, both Ellison and Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz told reporters they supported the decision.
In the 31-page decision, Messitte wrote, "Giving states and local governments the power to consent to resettlement of refugees — which is to say veto power to determine whether refugees will be received in their midst — flies in the face of clear Congressional intent."
Before Messitte's decision, Beltrami County had become the first in Minnesota and the second in the country to opt out of the resettlement program. At the meeting where the vote took place, a passionate crowd of at least 200 showed up to voice their concerns and opinions on the matter.
With the process now halted overall, Sumner said he hopes the conversation can continue in the community.
"I'm happy to hear that," Sumner said regarding the judge's decision. "Maybe it will give us an opportunity to look into some of the concerns that the crowd we had were expressing last week."
"I just wish it would've happened a week ago so folks wouldn't have had to be so upset," Anderson said. "It seems like there are two different camps and there shouldn't have to be in a community of our size."
When asked about the subject, Lucachick said the situation is in a state of "limbo" now and had no further comment.
Both Sumner and Olson have been invited to speak at the conclusion of Saturday's annual Women's March event, which is set for 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., and are expected to touch on the recent vote. The next Board of Commissioners meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 21, but there is no mention of the refugee subject on the agenda.