RED WING — Goodhue County’s boardroom was too small to hold everyone that wanted to hear the Committee of the Whole talk about refugee resettlement on Tuesday. So, the meeting was held in an adjacent courtroom where benches were filled until people were standing against the back wall and in the doorway, hoping to simply hear the five commissioners who sat at a long table facing the crowd to discuss the issue at hand.

The conversation was due to an executive order from President Donald Trump that, according to the county staff’s report, “requires local governments to provide written consent to the federal government prior to any refugees being resettled in the county.”

The county conversation comes weeks after Gov. Tim Walz informed the Trump administration that Minnesota would continue to welcome refugees. The most discussed and quoted line from Walz’s letter came at the end when he wrote:

“The inn is not full in Minnesota.”

Because Walz decided to continue allowing refugees into the state, counties now have to choose to either continue to be open for resettlement or opt out of the program.

Goodhue County’s meeting did not include a time for community members to voice their opinions on the topic. However, individuals worked to show support either for or against continuing refugee resettlement with signs, shouts of “America first” after the meeting, applause and an occasional hiss. After the final decision, the commissioners were approached by members of both sides to thank them or express frustration in the final decision.

Commissioners’ decision

The final decision was 3-2 in favor of resettling refugees. Council President Brad Anderson and commissioners Paul Drotos and Linda Flanders voted in favor of resettlement. Commissioners Barney Nesseth and Jason Majerus were opposed.

Before the commissioners' decision, Rachele King and John Meyers answered questions for the committee. King works as the refugee coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Human Services and Meyers is the refugee resettlement director for Catholic Charities of Southern Minnesota. Throughout their talk with the committee members, King and Meyers stressed that Goodhue County will probably not see any refugee resettlements in the near future.

Rachele King (left) and John Meyers spoke during Tuesday's Committee of the Whole meeting to give information about refugee resettlement. King is the state refugee coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Human Services. Meyers is the director of refugee resettlement for Catholic Charities of Southern Minnesota. Photo by Rachel Fergus/RiverTown Multimedia.
Rachele King (left) and John Meyers spoke during Tuesday's Committee of the Whole meeting to give information about refugee resettlement. King is the state refugee coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Human Services. Meyers is the director of refugee resettlement for Catholic Charities of Southern Minnesota. Photo by Rachel Fergus/RiverTown Multimedia.

If refugees have family in the United States, they are usually resettled near them. Otherwise, they are placed in a location with access to housing and work.

Meyers told the committee that if there was a refugee without family living locally, Rochester would most likely be where the individual would be placed; not Goodhue County.

King explained that since there have been two refugees placed in Goodhue County since 2010, it is unlikely that a refugee will have a family member in the county.

While an individual or family may originally be settled in one municipality, they can move wherever and whenever they would like, so it is possible that even if a refugee is not resettled in Goodhue County, they could still move here.

Nesseth noted shortly before the committee came to a decision that he did not feel comfortable voting to allow resettlement because potential costs were unknown. Currently there are no foreseeable resettlements in the county but this can change. However, the county’s letter does state that the municipality has the ability to stop complying with resettlement at any time.

Majerus noted that there were too many questions and not enough answers for him to vote in favor of refugees.

Before giving her thoughts about resettlement Flanders, who works for the nonprofit Hope Coalition, spoke to County Administrator Scott Arneson about if she should participate in the resettlement conversation. Flanders told the Republican Eagle:

“The issue of my recusing myself from this vote because I work for a nonprofit organization was a valid question. I immediately checked and cleared it with the County Attorney’s office. The legal decision is there is no conflict of interest.”