Joining around 20 Minnesota counties, the Washington County Board of Commissioners voted Tuesday to continue accepting new refugees.
The move comes in response to a presidential executive order issued in September, which requires all local governments to send written consent to the U.S. Department of State by June to continue accepting refugees from the department’s Reception and Placement Program.
Twenty-three refugees have resettled in Washington County through this program since 2015, according to data from the Minnesota Department of Human Services.
Many counties have opted to decide in recent weeks because nonprofit organizations that help resettle refugees must submit applications for federal funding by Jan. 21. The majority have yet to schedule a hearing.
The executive order only pertains to primary resettlement. Once refugees resettle, they can relocate to another county, though they may lose federal benefits.
A handful of residents spoke during public comment against the measure.
“My concern about refugee resettlement is that we can’t take care of our own people,” said Joe Salmon of Woodbury. “We have too many homeless, too many veterans living in shelters or on the street. And we’re going to let too many people come in, and not take care of those people first.”
Commissioners emphasized that the vote is to continue following existing procedures, rather than adopt a new policy.
“There is so much misinformation about what this is really discussing,” commissioner Wayne Johnson said. “This is discussing whether we want to allow charities to continue to do the great work they are doing, and not burden them unnecessarily, because they continue to do the work.”
In 2019, nine refugees resettled in Washington County. Because President Donald Trump is also reducing the number of refugees accepted nationwide from 30,000 last year to 18,000 in 2020, the county is expecting a lower number in 2020, commissioner Lisa Weik said.
“I think it’s very important to underline the dynamics of the fact that a county who does not opt in is really just leveraging economic sanctions against these nonprofits in the Twin Cities that are identified and responsible for providing support to refugees,” she said.