Officials in Blue Earth and Nicollet counties approved accepting refugee settlement in their counties.
The votes by the County Boards Tuesday are a result of an executive order by President Donald Trump that requires every county to decide if it will allow new arriving refugees to be processed in their county.
With almost no discussion, Blue Earth County commissioners unanimously voted to support accepting refugees.
“We’ve always accepted refugees,” Commissioner Colleen Landkamer said after the meeting. “This is nothing new.”
Will Purvis, the County Board chair, agreed. He said he had asked around his district (which includes Amboy, Good Thunder, Vernon Center and a sliver of Mankato, among other cities) and found no opposition to continuing refugee services.
“People are welcoming here,” he said.
In Nicollet County, four of the five commissioners supported continuing to accept refugees. Commissioner John Luepke, who represents a wide swath of rural area in the county, voted against it.
He said his constituents wanted him to vote against refugee settlement and said he believed the public cost of assisting refugees as well as other immigrants is too high.
But other commissioners noted there have been few refugees who’ve arrived in the county recently — only about a dozen over the past three years — and stressed refugees are a separate group from other immigrants because they are seeking safety after fleeing war, displacement or other extreme dangers in their home countries.
“They have no other place to go,” Board Chair Denny Kemp said of refugees.
Commissioner Terry Morrow said all refugees that arrive are thoroughly vetted by the federal government, confirming they are fleeing war, genocide or severe poverty.
Commissioner Jack Kolars gave an impassioned defense of welcoming refugees and other immigrants.
Calling them “new Americans,” Kolars said they follow in the footsteps of past groups of refugees and immigrants who often faced discrimination and persecution when they arrived and went on to be productive citizens.
And he said current newcomers are working in the area in large dairy farms, shingling roofs and in food-processing plants. “In many cases they’re doing work others won’t do.”
Kolars said Trump has demonized refugees and immigrants and taken actions, including the executive order, aimed at drastically reducing the number of refugees and immigrants coming to the country.
“I understand there’s a strong current of anti-refugee sentiment,” he said, a sentiment he blamed on Trump’s rhetoric.
In the nine-county region, refugees just arriving in the country have only been settled in Blue Earth and Nicollet counties because of the support services offered in Mankato and St. Peter. After their initial settlement here, refugees move to wherever they want.
Refugee arrivals have almost completely dried up. Blue Earth County had just three people arrive as refugees during the past two years, and in Nicollet County just two total arrived in the past two years, according to the Minnesota Council of Churches Refugee Services.
That’s down considerably from 2015 and 2016. In the past five years there were 61 refugees who arrived in Blue Earth County and 30 in Nicollet County.
The number of refugees coming to the United States also has dropped significantly. Years ago about 80,000 or more refugees settled in the U.S. annually. In recent years that number fell to about 30,000. In 2020 estimates are that only about 15,000-18,000 refugees will arrive in America.
Staff writer Trey Mewes contributed to this story.