St. Cloud council member to propose limiting refugees

Updated: 11:08 a.m. | Posted: 8:06 a.m.

A city council member in St. Cloud said he plans to propose a citywide moratorium on refugee resettlement.

Jeff Johnson said he wants to limit refugee resettlement until the city gets more information about the number of people moving to the city and the possible cost to taxpayers of providing services to them. He said Tuesday that he intends to bring it up when the council meets Nov. 6.

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Mayor Dave Kleis and several council members said Johnson's proposal is off base because resettlement is not the city's responsibility and no city money goes toward refugee resettlement. The number of refugees admitted into the U.S. is determined by the federal government.

The Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations launched a petition drive to urge the council to vote against Johnson's proposal. Executive director Jaylani Hussein called the proposal "despicable, racist, xenophobic, Islamophobic, and ill-informed."

The St. Cloud Times reported that as of Sept. 30, 114 refugees had been resettled this year in St. Cloud. Since 2002, about 1,870 refugees have been resettled in the heavily German and Catholic city of about 68,000 people. About 1,700 of them are Somali. The city was thrust into the national spotlight last year after a 20-year-old Somali stabbed and wounded 10 people at a local mall before a police officer killed him. The attacker's motives remain unclear.

Johnson's resolution cites the Refugee Act of 1980, which states that "local voluntary agency activities should be conducted in close cooperation and advance consultation with (s)tate and local governments."

"It's 100 percent clear to me. We have a local role in this matter and that the states do have a right to opt out of this program. I'm not going to go that far at this point," Johnson said. "I am in support of the moratorium until we get a handle on this program."

Kleis said he doesn't think the council will support the moratorium.

"I believe a moratorium violates the U.S. Constitution, particularly the equal protection clause," Kleis said, referring to the 14th Amendment. "We strive very hard to be a welcoming community. We work very hard to encourage people to come to the community. We should be focusing our efforts on making sure everyone succeeds."

Council Member John Libert also said it's unconstitutional. "It's inappropriate," he said. "I'm ashamed of him trying to pull it forward. ... We can't tell people they can't come here."