Approximately a dozen concerned citizens approached the Kanabec County Board of Commissioners urging them to make a decision on whether or not to allow refugee resettlement within Kanabec County.
On Sept. 26, 2019, President Donald Trump issued an executive order requiring both state and local governments consent to the federal government before refugees can be resettled in their jurisdictions.
On Dec. 13, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz offered consent to continue refugee resettlement in the state of Minnesota. This means in order to allow refugees to be resettled in Kanabec County, the Board of Commissioners would also have to vote to opt in.
The executive order goes into effect on June 1, 2020. After that date, refugees will not be placed in counties that have not consented. However, if a jurisdiction does not offer consent before Jan. 31 it is possible that refugees may not be resettled there in 2020.
This is a decision that faces every county government in the nation. On Jan. 7, Beltrami County became the first Minnesota county to refuse refugee resettlement in a 3-2 vote.
The issue spurred the organization of citizens who call their group, “Kanabec County Welcome Mat.” Members organized to encourage commissioners to approve refugee resettlement within the county.
During open forum of the commissioners’ Jan. 7 meeting, Laird Mork urged commissioners to welcome refugees.
“It won’t cost you anything to do the right thing,” Mork said. “Immigrants come to improve their lives. Refugees come to stay alive.”
Mork remarked that whether or not the county consents to refugee resettlement within the county, it is likely a moot point.
According to data from the Minnesota Department of Health, no refugees have primarily resettled in Kanabec County within at least the last 10 years, if not more.
“Opting in doesn’t mean we are going to see a flood of refugees coming tomorrow,” said Jake Mathison, a Mora resident and member of the Mora City Council.
Mathison spoke to say that whether or not refugees would actually resettle within the county, commissioners should at least vote on the issue as a way to show constituents where they stand on the issue.
Mathison suggested since the board’s vote wouldn’t likely make a difference in the number of refugees resettling within the county; the vote was more a symbolic statement.
“This executive order is bad policy and bad precedent. It is divisive, disingenuous and against the heart of what it means to be American,” he said.
Nancy Heins spoke against resettlement. Heins said she felt the county’s tax base wasn’t stable enough to support refugees if they needed additional assistance services. Heins said she might feel differently if the county had a healthier economy.
The Kanabec County Board of Commissioners did not vote on the issue Jan. 7. The next meeting is at 9 a.m. Jan. 22 in the board room of the Kanabec County Courthouse.