Two dozen Minnesota counties have found themselves at the forefront of a national issue, but at the moment that lens hasn't turned to McLeod County.
Kandiyohi County was among the first to tackle the issue earlier this month. In a 3-2 vote, commissioners agreed to accept continued refugee resettlement. The decision was made following the receipt of a letter from five refugee resettlement agencies asking the county to make the decision. According to the letter, 95 percent of those resettled in Minnesota are reuniting with family.
The letter was submitted in response to a Sept. 26 executive order from President Trump requiring formal consent from counties and states for refugee resettlement. The executive order says the federal government should consult with local and state governments to find the best environments for refugees and to respect those unable to accommodate resettlement.
"State and local governments are best positioned to know the resources and capacities they may or may not have available to devote to sustainable resettlement, which maximizes the likelihood refugees placed in the area will become self-sufficient," the order says.
The president has proposed a cap of 18,000 refugees for 2020, a decline of 40 percent from the previous year and a historic low. According to the Minnesota Department of Human Services, 70 percent of refugees are women and children. In 2018, 663 refugees were resettled in Minnesota. In 2019, another 775 have been resettled here. The majority this year are from Burma (362), followed by Ukraine (69) and Somalia (67).
Kandiyohi County received the letter requesting it accept refugees on Nov. 27. It's County Board was asked to make a decision by Dec. 20.
"None of the resettlement agencies have reached out to us for placement," said McLeod County Administrator Sheila Murphy, adding that the board would likely address the issue if a request is submitted in time.
Katie Bauer, a public information officer with the DHS, said counties must consent before Jan. 31, which is the deadline for resettlement agencies to submit placement plans to the U.S. Department of State. However, Jackie Nelson, senior manager for marketing and public relations with Lutheran Social Services, one of Minnesota's resettlement agencies, said that for her agency's planning purposes, the deadline is Dec. 25. That will allow a resettlement plan to be prepared by Jan. 21.
According to the DHS, no primary refugees have been resettled in McLeod County in the past five years.
Counties that do not signal their consent will not be targeted for resettlement, and agencies that provide support services — such as Minnesota Council of Churches, Arrive Ministries, Catholic Charities, International Institute of Minnesota, Lutheran Social Services of Minnesota — will not operate resettlement services in those counties. Refugees may move elsewhere following resettlement. Consent decisions take effect June 1.
"They're still trying to determine implementation moving forward," Murphy said, following a conference session hosted by DHS. "(We are) probably going to see them seeking consent on an annual basis. Since there is no urgency for counties not being contacted by the nonprofit agencies, it sounds like a lot of the counties are not voting at this time."