St. Louis Co. Board Delays Vote on Refugees

Ryan Juntti
Updated: January 07, 2020 06:30 PM

The St. Louis County Board has delayed its decision on whether to accept refugees in the county until this spring.

Tuesday's decision came after several hours of testimony from community members. The board voted 4-3 to table the issue until May 26.

Inside a packed St. Louis County boardroom, people both for and against the resolution voiced their opinions.

Some who were in favor of it say refugees are hardworking people and would be beneficial for the community.

"Welcoming, accepting the refugees is good, but it's not only good, it's the right, humane, and compassionate thing to do," said Meg Kearns of Duluth.

While others opposed to it expressed concerns that the county will not be able to adequately provide resources for refugees.

"While some of the urban counties in Minnesota may have financial resources to support the resettlement of refugees, St. Louis County does not," said Angela Campbell of Ely.

There's no way to know where the refugees would come from or how many might move to the county, since those decisions are made by the federal government on a case-by-case basis.

Lisa Bayley, Minnesota Department of Human Services Acting Assistant Commissioner for Children and Human Services, says refugee status is a legal determination made by the U.S. Department of State.

Bayley says determining whether someone is a refugee often requires a very extensive process.

"It involves a lot of documentation, interviews, the refugee, if they can, has to provide evidence about their fear of persecution or actual persecution or violence," said Bayley.

After their status as a refugee is verified, the federal government decides the best place to resettle them.

Bayley says family ties often determine where a refugee is placed, but only one refugee has been placed in St. Louis County in the last eight years.

After January 21, the U.S. Department of State can only place refugees in counties that have given their consent, but counties can still opt in after that date.

The county is required to vote on this after President Donald Trump issued an Executive Order last September.

It has been a hot topic nationwide, and St. Louis County Commissioners Beth Olson and Keith Nelson have differing opinions on whether it should be passed.

Olson, who represents West Duluth, is in favor of resettling refugees. She believes people who are opposed to doing so wrongly associate them with illegal immigrants.

"These are not illegal immigrants. These are refugees.These are people that have been vetted for years through multiple agencies, the FBI, counterterrorism groups, the CIA, Homeland Security in order to be able to come here," said Olson in an interview Monday.

But Olson points out, even if this resolution passes, it's not very likely to see an increase in refugees in Duluth because there isn't a resettlement agency.

"We get very few refugees here because they only come here if they have already settled somewhere, and then they choose to move here, so they came as refugees, settled somewhere else, came here, or if they have family or something here," said Olson.

St. Louis County Commissioner Keith Nelson, who represents parts of the Iron Range, says it's too early to know the impact it would have on increasing the amount of refugees.

"We're being asked to simply say 'you bet, we'll accept refugees.' We don't know from where, we don't know how many, we don't know if we would even get any," said Nelson in an interview Monday.

Nelson adds he has heard concerns from people in his district about how the county first needs to serve their residents.

"Our resources are stretched right now here in St. Louis County in terms of health and human services, in terms of serving the residents of this county," said Nelson. "I'm struggling with exacerbating that situation by bringing in refugees from other nations that we may not have the capacity to address their needs," he added.


Ryan Juntti

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