There will be no action regarding refugee resettlement programs in Scott County, thanks to a court injunction issued in Maryland staying President Trump’s executive order that gave states and counties purview to decide whether or not to accept primary refugee resettlement.
Scott County officials heard about federal and state resettlement programs and asked questions about that topic during a Scott County board workshop Tuesday morning, Feb. 4.
County officials said they scheduled a workshop discussion with the Minnesota Department of Human Services because of the number of questions they reportedly receive about immigration. They scheduled the workshop before the injunction.
According to county officials, 79 refugees have resettled in Scott County in the last five years, putting the county on the lighter end of the immigration issue. Most of the immigrants and refugees have settled in Shakopee or Savage. President Trump’s executive order that put counties in charge of deciding whether or not to accept first-phase resettlement has stalled, thanks to a court injunction in Maryland.
That means local officials don’t have to take any action at all until the matter is resolved. Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz gave consent to primary resettlement in December 2019. One Minnesota county, Beltrami County, chose not to allow it.
Scott County Public Affairs Coordinator Lisa Kohner said on the social media website NextDoor that the workshop was to receive information from the state on what the state’s terms mean, on the process people go through to be considered refugees and to be resettled in the U.S., and not to take formal action. Kohner’s post said officials learned about misinformation on social media that allegedly said the county board would take action Tuesday morning.
County officials say they have nothing to do until the Maryland issue is resolved. They spent much of the workshop listening as Patricia Fenrick, refugee workforce development community outreach specialist with the Minnesota Department of Human Services, said there is a difference between the terms for immigrants, refugees and asylees: refugees apply for that status before they leave for the U.S., while asylees have already entered the U.S. and are filing for status afterward. She said refugees and asylees are given those statuses because they have been persecuted. People who are selected through that process have legal, permanent status in the U.S.
She said the court order in Maryland regarding Executive Order 13888, which put the primary resettlement question in the hands of U.S. states and counties, now creates a stay, which means no action is required at this time.
That order gave states and counties the ability to decide whether or not to accept primary resettlement, which is for families whose first destination in the U.S. is Minnesota. It did not affect secondary resettlement, which is when refugees arrive in another state, then move to Minnesota at a later time.
Fenrick outlined the process people with refugee status have had to take since the federal law was established in 1980. The process starts overseas and continues with reception and placement with a resettlement agency and ends with building well-being. During her presentation, she said refugees are repeatedly vetted through a 17-step process that lasts 18 to 24 months before they are accepted. Once they are accepted, they are placed with a resettlement agency and connected to ongoing services and given a grant to help with initial expenses and start repaying travel loans.
She said they can only be resettled within 50 to 100 miles of a participating resettlement agency, like Catholic Charities or Lutheran Social Services, in the first phase of resettlement, which is 30-90 days. They can move anywhere after that time.
The state runs the programs in the well-being phase, where refugees receive non-mandatory services like job coaching and community orientation.
Scott County Commissioner Barb Weckman Brekke, who represents the Belle Plaine area, said she thought it was important for officials to ask questions and to get information “because so many people saw press about this and thought about the larger story of immigration. A lot of emails and calls we’ve received had to do with immigrants, public assistance benefits, drain on society, so it’s good for us to hear exactly what we’re being asked to do and that’s just say whether refugees can continue to settle here or not. I think the context of the numbers of refugees who have settled here is important. It’s really important to know that we’re talking about four people.”
Weckman Brekke said all the refugees who have resettled in Scott County in the last five years happened in the Shakopee or Savage area.
“Once refugees resettle here, they can move wherever they want,” she said. “We’ve gotten a lot of feedback from businesses and citizens, and the feedback tended to be one extreme or the other, many people saying they don’t want us to give consent. They don’t think refugees should resettle here, usually citing crime, public assistance, things like that. And then I had many emails and calls from folks, several of them business owners who employ refugees, who feel like they’re a great addition to the labor force because they’re great workers and wanted us to understand that,” Weckman Brekke said.
She said that up until this year, the county had no power, but the Trump administration, as part of its public charge efforts, has said that states and counties must consent to receiving that primary resettlement of refugees.
“(The president) was giving that power to the counties to say yes or no, which in theory is a good thing, but in practice difficult because we’re really consenting to that primary resettlement. We have no say after they get here. From a federal level, they’re allowed to come here, a week later they could move here, and that’s not our purview. So I think that’s really important for us to understand and good for the public to understand,” she said.
She said Scott County won’t be doing anything on first-phase resettlement because of the injunction.
“We set this informational session before the injunction, but it was good for us to learn about. It’ll probably be lifted some time. It was good for people to learn about,” Weckman Brekke said.
Links to Fenrick’s presentation are posted on the NextDoor app and on the county board’s website.