A visit from the Association of Minnesota Counties clarified the issue of refugee resettlement for the Lake County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday, Jan. 28.
"I'm sure you’ve seen it in the news, it’s been all over the state," said Matt Hilgart, government relations manager with AMC. "In September, President Trump issued an executive order that basically required county consent on refugee placements."
The executive order gave counties say in whether to welcome refugee resettlement in their respective counties — at least until a federal court placed an injunction on the order.
At least 25 counties in Minnesota voted on the issue, despite only roughly half of them having resettled any refugees in the last decade, according to AMC. In Lake County, no refugees have been resettled in the past five years, Hilgart saod.
"Prior to September, Lake County had no say in the process," Hilgart said. "If a resettlement group looked at Two Harbors and said 'There’s a community here of Ukranian refugees and this refugee has a family member living in Two Harbors, so we’re going to place them there.' You would have no say in the placement. With the executive order, it now requires the county board to provide consent for that initial placement to occur."
The order was scheduled to take effect on June 1, but many counties sought to make decisions before Jan. 21 as that's the deadline to apply for federal funding for the agencies. Under the executive order, counties were required to opt-in to allow refugee resettlement, so not voting would effectively be the same as voting no.
On Jan. 15, a federal judge in Maryland placed a temporary injunction on the executive order, barring it from taking effect for the time being.
"So it goes back to pre-September status where the county has no role, no say in this whatsoever," Hilgart said. "It is just an injunction so the Trump administration could fight this, petition and appeal it. The court could rule in favor of the administration and put this back on your table as county commissioners. But for now, the status is like this never happened."
In the meantime, Hilgart said AMC has been working to provide counties with fact sheets and clear information on the topic to provide guidance.
"There are a lot of questions, a lot of misinformation out there, so we've been clarifying things," Hilgart said. "And with the court order, it looks like a lot of counties are putting this on the side burner for now. But it could be something you'll have to take up in the future."
County commissioner Rich Sve thanked Hilgart for his explanation.