Wadena County unsettled over refugee resettlement decision

Wadena County board members include commissioners Sheldon Monson (left), Bill Stearns, board chair Chuck Horsager, Jon Kangas and Jim Hofer. Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal

Wadena County Commissioners are unsure if they want to make a decision to vote either in favor or against allowing resettlement of refugees in the county. Taking no action means refugees may not be placed in the county.

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 recent county commission meeting Tuesday, Jan. 14. He suggested to the board that they should bring the topic up for a vote soon to let it be known the decision of the local jurisdiction. He suggested that the public may plan to bring the topic to the board if they don't bring it up themselves.

"Maybe we should nip it in the bud," Kangas said.

No other commissioner on the board was quick to agree. Commissioner Bill Stearns said voting against resettlement could have a negative impact on funding for the county.

"I would have a problem going on record as the county taking a stance like Beltrami County because we are asking for special dispensation from the Legislature," Stearns said. "You know we are a high tax county and low base and we are trying to get some things in there. I don't think we need to go poke anybody in the eye with a sharp stick."


Commissioner Sheldon Monson brought up the legislator who suggested funds should be taken from Beltrami County for not allowing refugees.

Stearns and Monson mentioned the county needs all the financial help they can get as they continue to try to get funding for four lanes of Hwy 10, as one example. Stearns suggested that Monson could reach out to local legislators to get a feel for what they were hearing among their groups, as a way to determine what steps should be taken locally.

Kangas said he understood those concerns, but he felt different.

"Any legislator that's talking about withholding funds from a county that makes a decision like that, to me that's just nonsense," Kangas said. He likened the move to quid pro quo -- where if the county wanted the funding, they must allow resettlement.

"There's a lot of nonsense involved in the Legislature," Stearns quipped.

If they wish to allow refugees, the county must make that decision by the end of January. Those resettlement decisions are to take effect in June. According to the language of the executive order, the cooperation between the state and local governments ensures "that refugees are resettled in communities that are eager and equipped to support their successful integration into American society and the labor force."


article4865852.ece POLL: The PJ asks ... Should Wadena County allow refugee resettlement? Yes. No. I'd rather see the county population shrink.


Gov. Tim Walz last month said the state would continue resettling refugees in counties that approve their placements. Otter Tail County is one local county that decided to continue to allow refugee resettlement.

Refugees, including family members of those already living in Minnesota, will be placed under the president's executive order as of June 1 barring intervention from the courts. Trump has placed a cap on refugees to be accepted by the U.S. at 18,000 for 2020, a historic low and a 40% decrease from the year prior.

The Minnesota Department of Human Services reports that 775 refugees have been placed in Minnesota in 2019, down from placement totals in years prior. And of those placed last year, the bulk of the refugees came from Myanmar and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Sixty-seven of those placed in Minnesota last year came from Somalia and 69 came from Ukraine.

Refugee resettlement agencies around the country have challenged Trump's executive order, alleging it violates federal law. Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison in December announced that he had joined a lawsuit with 12 other states challenging the order on the basis that it violates the Refugee Act of 1980.

Dana Ferguson, Forum News Service, contributed to this article.


Michael Johnson is the news editor for Agweek. He lives in rural Deer Creek, Minn., where he is starting to homestead with his two children and wife.
You can reach Michael at or 218-640-2312.
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