ST. PAUL — Trista MatasCastillo teared up a bit at this week’s Ramsey County commissioners meeting when talking about callers telling her she was “unchristian” for wanting more refugees to resettle near her.
“Which I find absurd. Jesus was a refugee. Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt,” said Commissioner MatasCastillo, who identified herself as a woman of strong faith. “This is a loaves and fishes sort of experience.”
As of last year, Ramsey County accepted 71 percent of the refugees who have resettled in Minnesota. Compare that to Hennepin County’s 12 percent, and the rest of the counties in single-digits, if any at all, county officials noted.
On Tuesday, in response to a federal mandate requiring them to acknowledge whether they wanted more refugees, the county board unanimously voted that yes, they did.
MatasCastillo, whose district contains more refugees than any other in the state, brought the motion forward.
But board chair Toni Carter quickly spoke in favor of the resolution.
“A community where all are valued and thrive truly means ‘all,’ ” Carter said.
Added Commissioner Victoria Reinhardt, “Unless you are Native American and indigenous to this country, somewhere along the way, your ancestors were welcomed. Maybe not in a good way.”
County staff came forward as well: Policy and planning director Elizabeth Tolzmann noted that her family were refugees, and “We’ve given (back) twenty-fold in the last four decades.”
Last year, the city of St. Paul approved a formal statement saying they would accept and welcome more refugees.
Still, the number of refugees coming into the country next year will likely shrink. There is a federal cap of 18,000 refugees this year, compared to a cap of 30,000 last year, which was reached in the third quarter.
County Manager Ryan O’Connor pointed out that according to Minnesota’s demographer, “We are reliant at this point on foreign-born populations to fuel the growth in Ramsey County.”
In a 2015 St. Paul Pioneer Press report on the state’s aging population, state demographer Susan Brower noted that Midwestern states have tended in recent years to lose more people than they gain — with the bulk of those moving out being young.
Starting in 2002, Minnesota’s “net domestic migration” — the number of people who move here from other states, minus those who move away — turned negative, and has remained that way.
But due to “international migration”— people moving here from other countries —the state’s population has actually increased on the whole.
Earlier this month, Beltrami County commissioners became the first in the state to vote against allowing refugees to be placed there.
In contrast, a growing number of other Minnesota counties have voted to accept those displaced by war, persecution or natural disasters.
For instance, in another vote Tuesday at the far north end of the state, Cook County’s board unanimously approved refugee resettlement there.
Other counties have voted to delay the decision.
The votes are in reaction to an executive order signed by President Donald Trump in September, which requires states and counties to inform the U.S. State Department in writing whether they consent to receiving refugees from the federal resettlement program.
Local resettlement groups have until the end of January to send their own placement plans to the State Department.
Gov. Tim Walz sent a letter to the feds last month saying yes, Minnesota consented.