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Refugee resettlement issue stirs controversy

FAIRMONT — On Tuesday, Martin County commissioners will again discuss the issue of local government consent for refugee resettlement.

The topic has been a controversial one across the nation, as Texas recently became the first state to no longer accept the resettlement of new refugees under an option available to it through President Donald Trump’s executive order. Then, on Jan. 15, a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction to halt the order nationwide.

With strong feelings on both sides of the issue, it is worth noting that the order has nothing to do with illegal immigrants. Refugees are people who have been forced to flee their home countries because of violence or persecution based on religion, race, nationality or political opinion. The U.S. Department of State administers the Refugee Admissions Program, and people selected to resettle through the program have legal, permanent status in the United States; are authorized to work immediately; and are on placed on a pathway to citizenship in five years.

County Coordinator Scott Higgins helped explain what local consent for refugee resettlement actually entails.

“In September of 2019, President Trump issued an order enhancing state and local involvement in refugee resettlement,” he said. “So this order requires local governments to provide written consent to the federal government prior to refugees being settled in the county. I think people also have to realize that resettlement refugees undergo an extreme screening and vetting process with the State Department and Homeland Security. They undergo one of the most extensive vetting process than any other class of immigrants.

“Resettlement is generally seen as the last resort, which is only offered to refugees after all other opportunities have been explored. So they are invited to come to this country and they are not illegal immigrants.”

According to the Minnesota Department of Human Services, the resettlement itself is done through volunteer agencies, such as Catholic Charities of Southern Minnesota, International Institute of Minnesota, Lutheran Social Services of Minnesota, Minnesota Council of Churches: Refugee Services, and Arrive Ministries. The agencies settling the refugees will receive $1,175 per refugee for the first 90 days. Those funds do not transfer if refugees move to another location within the first 90 days.

In addition, the resettling agencies will receive $1,000 per refugee for “case management” of the individual refugee, which includes meeting the family, setting up living space and getting them in the school system.

“What people need to realize is that these refugees can move anywhere,” Higgins said. “This is just about the initial resettlement.”

He went on to explain the options county commissioners have.

“They can consent, they can deny pending the injunction or they can take no action,” he said. “If they take no action, it will be listed as a ‘no.’ The injunction effectively rules that local government cannot exercise veto power over refugee resettlement in their jurisdiction. So we’ll have to get some legal advice and, of course, the County Attorney will need to be involved, but I anticipate there will be more discussion with this recent injunction.”

Martin County residents may contact commissioners about the topic.

The public also is invited to the fourth Building Bridges Casual Conversation of the season from 5-6 p.m. Tuesday at Graffiti Corner, 1500 South State St., Fairmont. Participants can share their ideas during this informal opportunity to make connections with English-language learners through casual conversations and planning for the city’s future. A discussion topic to be included will concern refugee resettlement consent. For more information, contact Fairmont Community Education and Recreation at (507) 235-3141.

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