St. Louis County commissioners will decide on giving consent for refugee resettlement at their regular meeting on Tuesday — and Lynn Goerdt will be there.
“I will definitely be there again,” said Goerdt, a Duluth resident and University of Wisconsin-Superior associate professor in social work who appealed to commissioners to give their consent after the topic was introduced at the County Board’s final gathering in December.
Prior to the county vote this week, she talked with the News Tribune about her work involving refugees and the upcoming vote.
“One of the things that’s so interesting about the vote is that it’s important, but it’s also sending a message that we’re welcome and open,” she said.
Every state and county in the country is required to provide consent for refugee resettlement by June 1 — the result of an executive order President Donald Trump issued in September. As of the deadline, refugees will not be placed in states and counties that do not provide written consent. Not filing a consent letter will register with the federal government as a tacit denial of refugee resettlement.
St. Louis County is among an early wave of counties tackling the issue. Commissioner Beth Olson has said it’s important for the county to set an example for being welcoming. Gov. Tim Walz notably issued state consent in December by saying, in part, “The inn is not full in Minnesota.”
Prior to the Trump order, the federal government was required to consult with state and local governments, but was not bound to act in accordance with their desires, the county said in the resolution commissioners will vote on. The county also described the order as giving counties “greater involvement in the decision whether to allow refugees to be resettled within their borders.”
Goerdt doesn’t see it that way, as some form of empowerment. Rather, she noted White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller in her critique of the consent order. As Trump’s lead strategist on immigration and borders, Miller has orchestrated a series of actions aimed at curbing newcomers to the country. Goerdt cited the travel ban Trump placed on seven countries from around the globe, the family separation policy at the border with Mexico and the diminished number of overall immigrants and refugees being accepted into the country.
“Stephen Miller is behind all of this,” Goerdt said. “He has somehow figured out all the loopholes and avenues and it’s working. It’s making people have to make a statement.”
Goerdt has made part of her life’s work a study in the refugee experience. She’s studied policies in Germany and families who have sought asylum there. She’s been to nearby Thunder Bay, Ontario, where she said the business community has “completely bought-in” and supports lifting up "a huge percentage of non-native born folks."
She lamented fear-mongering and casting immigrants and refugees as criminals and outsiders.
“Globally, right now, more people are displaced than any time since World War II — 70 million people displaced because of war, violence, famine and natural disaster,” she said. “They need somewhere to go so that they can survive and the U.S. has always participated in resettling refugees. We’ve been a leader. But with our extremely low rate, we have cut out some of the people most in need.”
She mentioned finding Syria on the travel ban.
"I feel it is a shame and a disservice," she said. "Millions of people from Syria need a place to be and most of them speak English."
The reality of the resettlement issue as it relates to St. Louis County is that the county is a low priority. Only one refugee was resettled in St. Louis County in seven years through 2018. Most refugees who come to Minnesota reside near the Twin Cities, where they are required to live within 50 miles of the refugee resettlement agencies located there. The agencies are religious-based, and help refugees get started with an emphasis on self-sufficiency.
Because St. Louis County does not have a refugee resettlement agency, only people with family members living here can be placed in the county.
When asked what it was Goerdt found in her studies that was common to the refugee experience, she said: “Stability, safety and participating in the economy. But mainly it’s safety. By the time they get to the U.S., their goal is to be safe. If they have a family with children, the kids are in school within a couple days. Refugees resettle and get jobs and go to school, so they can be as independent as possible.”