Gov. Tim Walz notified the Trump administration Friday that the state will continue to welcome refugees, pointedly saying that the “inn is not full in Minnesota.”
In a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Walz wrote that he rejects the intent of President Donald Trump’s recent executive order requiring state and local governments to independently approve the resettlement of refugees in their communities. The DFL governor also sought to highlight the contributions of immigrants and refugees.
“Minnesota has a strong moral tradition of welcoming those who seek refuge,” Walz wrote. “Refugees strengthen our communities. Bringing new cultures and fresh perspectives, they contribute to the social fabric of our state. Opening businesses and supporting existing ones, they are critical to the success of our economy.”
The Minneapolis City Council also approved a resolution Friday reaffirming the city’s pledge to be a welcoming city that strongly supports the resettlement of refugees. The resolution states that Minnesota and Minneapolis are home to some of the largest and most diverse populations of refugees and immigrants in the U.S., contributing to the city’s “economic strength and cultural richness.”
Hours later, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison joined a 12-state court brief backing three refugee resettlement organizations that have sued the Trump administration over the president’s executive order. The states argue that the order violates federal law, interferes with state sovereignty and “undermines family reunification efforts.”
“Minnesotans want everyone to live with the same dignity and respect that they want for themselves,” Ellison said in a statement calling the president’s order “illegal and immoral.”
Consent letters like Walz’s are supposed to inform resettlement agencies and shape placement strategies that will be submitted to the State Department. The decisions by federal officials are expected to take effect June 1. If local governments do not take action, refugees may not be placed in their communities.
But refugees who have already settled in the U.S. can still move anywhere they wish. Trump’s order applies only to the initial resettlement of refugees from abroad.
Trump’s order has prompted a scramble by counties across Minnesota to decide whether to formally accept refugees in their communities, thrusting local officials into a divisive national debate. The order, issued in September, requires that they decide by the end of January.
The issue came to a head last week in Kandiyohi County in western Minnesota, where commissioners split 3-2 to accept refugees after a heated debate. Willmar, the largest city in Kandiyohi County, has close to 3,100 foreign-born citizens in an overall population of 19,673. It’s also in a congressional district that backed Trump by more than 30 percentage points.
Decisions are pending in Hennepin and Ramsey, the state’s two most populous counties.
North Dakota’s Republican Gov. Doug Burgum recently gave approval for refugee resettlement in his state as long as local governments consented. This week, North Dakota’s Burleigh County — home to the state capital, Bismarck — voted 3-2 to continue accepting refugees this year after being on the verge of becoming the country’s first local government to reject new refugees since Trump’s order.
Trump has ordered that the number of refugees allowed to resettle in the U.S. in the coming year be cut to 18,000, about half the administration’s previous refugee limit of 30,000. The new caps represent a drastic reduction from the limits under former President Barack Obama, who allowed up to 110,000 refugees in his last year in office.
At an October campaign rally at Target Center in Minneapolis, Trump drew loud cheers when he mocked U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., and railed against the large resettlement of Somalis to the region.
“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,” Trump said at the rally. “I promise you that as president, I would give local communities a greater say in refugee policy and put in place enhanced vetting and responsible immigration control, and I’ve done that since coming into office.”
Walz’s letter appeared to be a rejoinder to Trump’s declaration on the U.S.-Mexico border last April that the U.S. immigration system is overburdened and that “our country is full.” The governor’s phrasing also invoked the biblical story of the nativity.
“As the Holiday Season approaches, we are reminded of the importance of welcoming all who seek shelter,” Walz wrote in his letter. “The inn is not full in Minnesota.”
Stephen Montemayor • 612-673-1755 Twitter: @smontemayor