A crowd of refugee resettlement weary residents filled the seating areas at the Wadena County Commission meeting Tuesday, Jan. 21.
Residents took turns telling the board how they were very concerned about allowing any refugees in the county from other countries. The topic comes forward after President Donald Trump in September signed Executive Order 13888. The order requires states and counties to notify the State Department, in writing, whether they will consent to receive refugees from the department's Reception and Placement Program. Recent news of Beltrami County voting against allowing refugees spread quickly across the state and country, and constituents began asking their commissioners how they would vote.
The question has been asked of Wadena County Commissioner Jon Kangas numerous times, he said during the county commission meeting Tuesday, Jan. 14. He suggested to the board that they should bring the topic up for a vote soon to let the decision of the local jurisdiction be known. He suggested that the public may plan to bring the topic to the board if they don't bring it up themselves. If Tuesday was any indication, residents chose to bring it forth themselves as the topic was not on the agenda.
Residents speaking in the public comment time included Brad Snyder, of Menahga, who spoke first. He, like several other residents, shared that he was not opposed to legal immigration. He was, however, opposed to the refugee resettlement due to the financial burden he felt it would have on what’s already one of the poorest counties in the state. He shared that the county and state should be helping the current residents that are already in need.
“There’s enough poverty in the United States,” Snyder said. “There are millions that we could be helping and we should help those Americans that are already here instead of allowing more refugees.”
Jerry Grewing spoke next and shared that it was his understanding that Minnesota was one of the hardest hit with refugee resettlement.
“I just think they’re really hitting Minnesota hard,” Grewing said.
He believed the real reason refugees are being allowed in the state is an effort to get their votes.
“You know darn good and well they are going to have driver's licenses and they’re gonna allow them to vote, which I don’t agree with at all unless you go through the 8-9 years of actually being a legal immigrant,” Grewing said.
He then pointed to California as an example of the disastrous outcome of allowing refugees. He then moved on to his concern that the Democratic party is out to confiscate guns.
“I’m not a radical, but they ain’t gettin em,” Grewing said.
District 2B Rep. Steve Green attended the meeting to echo the concerns of the residents. He made it clear he was not going to tell Wadena County what to do, however, he cautioned residents to be aware of what actions the government is taking.
“Everyone should be watching what is going on in their state, as you are in your county,” Green said. He thanked the group for showing up.
Duane Hilluka, Menahga, also spoke to the topic saying that he too believes in legal immigration. He shared that everyone in the room got here because they worked hard to do so.
Commissioner Sheldon Monson shared a poll from the Wadena Pioneer Journal, which showed that 81% of respondents were not in favor of refugee resettlement in the county, 17% were in favor and 2% wanted to see a reduction in the county’s population.
Hearing all public comment at the meeting was opposed to refugee resettlement, Commissioner Bill Stearns reaffirmed that no action is a no vote. He said at this point no commissioner has brought forth a resolution before the board to take action on supporting refugee resettlement in Wadena County. His stance was that Wadena County does not have to take action and should not take action that could impact the state aid the county receives.
Wadena County Attorney Kyra Ladd shared that the deadline for the county to put forth a resolution was today, Jan. 21.
Commissioner Jon Kangas responded to Stearns saying that it has been his desire to bring a motion forward to take action. He brought up the topic at the Jan. 14 meeting, too. He made a motion to have a future meeting to discuss this issue even though the deadline would have passed. He felt it was still important to hear from the county residents and for the board to vote to show their support one way or another.
“I think it’s an ongoing issue,” Kangas said. “It’s not a one-time thing.”
Stearns responded that no one was in support of a motion to allow refugee resettlement, so there was no action they needed to take that would have any bearing on the outcome. He added that the county doesn’t have any authority over the situation. Ladd was asked to respond. She said that a general rule is the county can be more restrictive than the state, but can not be less restrictive.
With Kangas’ motion on the floor, Stearns responded that “there is no second.” Kangas took offense to the remark calling it inappropriate that he should speak for other board members.
With no second, Kangas’ motion died and the board moved on to other business.