'Inn is not full in Minnesota': Walz backs continued refugee settlement

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz speaks with reporters at the Capitol in St. Paul, Minn., Tuesday, Oct. 1.
Steve Karnowski | AP Photo

Updated: 4 p.m.

Gov. Tim Walz on Friday gave his formal consent to let refugees keep settling in Minnesota, and he said he rejected the intent of President Trump’s recent executive order requiring state and local governments to formally OK such settlements.

And on another front, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison joined a lawsuit challenging the executive order.

“Refugees strengthen our communities,” the governor wrote in a letter released by his office to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. “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.”

With a nod toward Christmas, Walz added, “The inn is not full in Minnesota.”

Trump issued the executive order in September, effectively giving state and local authorities more power to close the door on refugee settlements or affirm that refugees were welcome.

Ellison is among a dozen attorneys general to support a lawsuit filed by resettlement organizations that seeks to halt the consent requirement.

Local officials shouldn't have veto power when it comes to helping people flee oppression or violence in their home countries, Ellison said.

"You have to look at this policy together with all the other policies,” he said. “Together with the child separation policy, the cage policy, the wall policy, the Muslim ban policy. All the policies add up to fortress America. Nobody's welcome. You don't belong."

Walz’s affirmation in Minnesota comes after a divided board of commissioners in Kandiyohi County last week voted to accept more refugees into its increasingly diverse community. Commissioners in North Dakota’s Burleigh County also recently agreed in a divided vote to continue a refugee resettlement program managed by Lutheran Social Services.

The number of refugees allowed to resettle in the United States is at a historic low. Trump set the cap for fiscal year 2020 at 18,000 — a 40 percent drop from the previous year.

Minnesota resettled 775 refugees in 2019, according to the state Department of Human Services. The majority are from Burma and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Somali refugees totaled 67, while Ukrainians made up 69.

Besides disagreeing with Trump’s executive order, Walz on Friday indicated the state might challenge it.

“The president’s executive order on refugees was meant to divide us,” Walz told MPR News. “We’ve always collaborated with counties. Minnesota has a rich tradition, especially as it deals with refugees. Because of that our state is better for it. Our state is economically stronger. Our state is more diverse.”

Walz pointed out that Republican governors, including those in North Dakota and Utah, have also given their consent. “Welcoming refugees has been a hallmark of what this country and Minnesota has been like,” he said. “I just wanted to make sure from a state perspective we were clear about that.”

MPR News reporter Briana Bierschbach contributed to this report.

Correction (Dec. 13, 2019): Commissioners in Burleigh County, N.D., recently voted to continue a refugee resettlement program. An earlier version of this story indicated the vote was pending.