Olmsted County is expected to continue being open to refugees in 2020.
A presidential executive order signed in September requires counties, along with the governor of each state, to file a letter by Dec. 25 to consent to continued refugee resettlement within their borders.
“If we ignore this, it’s an automatic no,” said Corrine Erickson, the county’s Family Support and Assistance director.
A request that split the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday found easy agreement Thursday among the three members of Olmsted County’s administrative committee.
County Board Chairman Jim Bier and commissioners Sheila Kiscaden and Matt Flynn authorized signing a letter to keep Olmsted County open to refugees coming to the U.S. from other countries
“It’s stuff we are doing already,” Bier said.
County Administrator Heidi Welsch said unanimous committee approval is all that was required to submit the letter.
Erickson said 39 new refugees have been settled in Olmsted County this year, with three arriving last month.
John Meyers, director of refugee resettlement for Catholic Charities of Southern Minnesota, said 26 individual refugees came to Olmsted County from other countries in 2018.
He said the numbers are likely to be lower next year, since President Trump’s executive order is expected to limit the number of refugees entering the U.S. to 18,000, which would be the lowest number since at least 1980.
Approximately 7,500 new refugees are expected to come from Africa or other locations where the people are not victims of religious persecution. Five thousand refugees will be people suffering religious persecution or who have a well-founded fear that it might occur. Another 4,000 will be refugees from Iraq. The remaining refugee slots will be filled by individuals from El Salvador, Guatemala or Honduras.
“Most resettlement now will only be reunification (of families),” Meyers said, noting the majority of refugees arriving in Olmsted County in recent years were reuniting with family members who were already here.
Meyers said denial of resettlement wouldn’t necessarily mean future refugees won’t end up in Olmsted County. Meyer said they could initially settle in another county and move to Olmsted County.
Such a move would mean the refugees couldn’t access 90 days worth of federal services available through the resettlement program administered by Catholic Charities.
Meyers said the Olmsted County approval is the first in Southeast Minnesota.
On Tuesday, Kandiyohi County was the first affirmative vote in the state after commissioners voted 3-2 to grant approval for resettlement.
Statewide, Erickson said 981 refugees have been resettled in Minnesota from foreign countries this year. Ten of the state’s refugees settled in Kandiyohi County.
A letter sent to all Minnesota counties by directors of programs involved with refugee resettlement, which included Meyers, noted nearly 70 cities in the state accepted refugees throughout 2018 and 2019.
Gov. Tim Walz's office reports an official state letter on the issue hasn't been submitted, but the governor "is working to make sure Minnesota continues to be a state that welcomes and supports those seeking refuge."
Shelby Lindrud of the West Central Tribune contributed to this article.