Not surprisingly, the debate concerning refugees has rapidly become polarized and acrimonious. The county commissioners who voted to close the county to refugees claim that this is a purely budgetary matter. Fair enough. Their argument can be summarized in three points.

  1. Beltrami County is poor, and cannot afford refugees.

  2. There would be a vast influx of refugees: figures of 2,500 or 3,000 have been cited.

  3. Refugees would be a long-term liability to the county budget. They would have to be self-sustaining from day one.

Do these claims stand up to scrutiny? Let’s examine them, in reverse order.

C. Like all more or less destitute immigrants, these would predictably do their best to become economically successful, that is to say, rapidly independent. That is one of the secrets of this country’s enduring success: immigrants have been and continue to be an asset, not a liability. They all want to make good. And thus, very quickly, contribute to the general prosperity.

B. The county “borders” have been open, all these many years. And yet, so I’m told, there is not a single known refugee in the county. Why would they suddenly converge upon this obscure, remote, frigidly cold area?

A. Only, perhaps, those who have suffered oppression, or seen its consequences at close hand, can truly empathize with those who are suffering. Thus the fact that the world’s poor are also the most open-handed, hospitable. We are not talking about mere economic immigrants, like our forefathers. These are refugees fleeing systemic persecution, endemic violence, rape and murder. If, knowing what we now know, a family of European Jews trying to escape the Holocaust knocked on your door pleading for help, would you, could you send them back to the crematoriums?

In the face of that degree of suffering and danger, to be human is to be humane – shorthand for the parable of the good Samaritan. To state, as official policy, that we utterly refuse the elementary duty of lending a hand to those who are drowning is a very strong statement about our true, core values, or lack thereof. Beltrami County may be poor, relatively; but the USA is one of the richest countries in the world, and we have never been wealthier than today. Let’s keep the door open at least a crack. And we should, because the “county budget” argument doesn’t hold water, factually or morally.