There is no more complicated or divisive issue in Minnesota right now than immigration and refugee settlement. Much of that complexity arises because the issue is not just about immigration. It’s also about transparency and accountability, the power of the federal government over Minnesota, state government spending and whether Minnesotans have a voice in their own government’s decisions. And contrary to what many would have you believe - it is not partisan.
The most notable example of the difficulty of this issue is in St. Cloud. The refugee situation has boiled over there. Residents, including a City Councilman named Jeff Johnson (no relation), have repeatedly voiced concerns regarding both the number of refugees settled in their city and the economic impact this may be having. They have been denied answers to their legitimate questions and have instead been met with inferences that they are hateful or bigoted.
In St. Cloud, Councilmember Johnson recently proposed a temporary pause to further refugee settlement pending the completion of an independent economic impact study detailing the cost to taxpayers. Unfortunately, what has become the standard playbook was employed against Johnson and St. Cloud residents who were voicing their concerns.
While a thoughtful debate could have ensued regarding whether the city can dictate resettlement or what the costs to taxpayers are, instead the motion was labeled as “despicable” and “racist” and deemed to expose “latent strains of white supremacy that endanger our American values and threaten our democracy.”
No wonder people are unwilling to have legitimate conversations about this issue. If you ask questions or voice sincere concerns, you are accused of the most offensive and outrageous motives.
And it’s not as though the issue is inconsequential. Refugee resettlement in Minnesota has more than tripled in four years and the last state government data released shows Minnesota spent more than $180 million in benefits on cash, food and medical assistance for refugees in 2015. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it does show that citizens expressing a concern are basing it on legitimate reasons, not racism or intolerance.
Here’s my bottom line on the entire situation:
First, common sense dictates that resettlement should be at least paused until sufficient and accurate answers are given on how many refugees are being settled here, what impact it has on residents and what the actual cost is to taxpayers. Minnesotans might very well decide that these costs are outweighed by the benefits, but we can’t make that decision without all the facts.
Second, getting this information to citizens and elected officials quickly is critical. This is dictated by the very principles of America’s founding - that government is run BY and FOR the people.
Third, the tactic that some employ in response to this issue - to proclaim that those of an alternate view are racist or intolerant - is really getting old. How about we actually have a conversation which includes facts and reason, rather than slander and accusation?
And finally, as a fervent supporter of the 10th Amendment, the concept of a federal program resettling people into communities with virtually no input from that community’s citizens is unacceptable. In general, the power balance between state and federal government has been greatly distorted for some time--and this is a perfect example. No office in Washington D.C. should be populating any state’s cities by unquestioned edict.
Minnesotans will always be a welcoming people. We are generous and caring and have a long history of accepting refugees and legal immigrants into our great state. I’m proud of that history, but we can’t simply dismiss (or denigrate) the sincere concerns of Minnesota citizens. And based on the unanswered concerns of many Minnesotans about refugee resettlement, we should press the pause button, learn the facts and make a reasoned and informed decision about what the future holds.