At his October rally in Minneapolis, President Donald Trump brought up something he'd been talking to supporters about since his 2016 campaign.
“As you know, for many years, leaders in Washington brought large numbers of refugees to your state from Somalia without considering the impact on schools and communities and taxpayers,” he said. “You should be able to decide what is best for your own cities and your own neighborhoods.”
The idea of "leaders in Washington" shipping Somalis to Minnesota isn't true. Trump's crowd cheered anyway. Of course they did.
Trump bragged he had "reduced refugee resettlement by 85 percent" as president, thanks in no small part to his travel ban from Somalia and six other Muslim-majority countries. In Minnesota alone, the number of Somalis resettling dropped from 1,400-plus in 2016 to just 48 in 2018, according to coverage by Sahan Journal.
Trump also hyped an executive order he'd handed down just the month before, one that required local authorities to explicitly approve any further refugee resettlement. Trump told the Target Center crowd this order would be noticed "especially in Minnesota," and encouraged people to "speak to your mayor" about it.
Resettlement agencies have until the end of January to submit their placement strategies to the U.S. State Department, the Star Tribune reports, leaving a small window for Minnesota’s counties to debate refugees. One by one, they're taking on the issue. The results aren't what Trump had in mind.
In early December, Kandiyohi County took up the question. The vote took place in Willmar—the same city where, at a city council meeting, a resident declared that Somalis had “taken over the whole town” in 2017. (To be clear, precisely 10 refugees were settled in Willmar last year, and of them, four were East African.) This month, county commissioners voted 3-2 in favor of allowing more.
“I will not support a ‘no’ vote because I do not think it sends the appropriate nor the honest message to the community, our county, and our country," Commissioner Harlan Madsen said.
Blue Earth and Nicollet Counties followed suit a few weeks later. As Blue Earth Commissioner Colleen Landkamer told the Mankato Free Press: “We’ve always accepted refugees. This is nothing new.”
Meanwhile, the St. Louis County Board told the Duluth News Tribune it plans to tackle the issue in early January, but so far, all five commissioners who have registered opinions on the subject were in favor of voting “yes.” Commissioner Beth Olson even tried to get the vote over with in 2019.
“It’s not complicated,” she told the Tribune.
At the state level, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz has already made his stance clear. The “inn,” he said, “is not full.”
In November, a group of refugee resettlement programs filed a lawsuit challenging the Trump administration's authority with this mandate for approval. Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, called the president's order “unconstitutional” and “compassionless.”
A few quick facts to put things in perspective:
Minnesota resettled a total of 775 refugees in 2019, mostly from Burma and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Sixty-seven of those refugees were Somali, MPR reports. Another 69 were Ukrainian. A letter from the five resettlement agencies in our state estimated that refugees contribute some $227 million in state and local taxes each year.
The majority of Somali people in our state have lived here at least a decade, according to Census Bureau data, and about 34 percent were born here. People of Somali heritage make up about 1 percent of our population. White people make up about 80 percent.