MPR News/Star Tribune poll: Most Minnesotans open to refugees

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A child holds a sign during a city council meeting on refugees.
A child holds a sign during a meeting on refugee resettlement moratoriums in October 2017 at City Council chambers in St. Cloud, Minn. Minnesotans support refugee resettlement in their communities by a wide margin, according to a new MPR News/Star Tribune Minnesota Poll.
Dave Schwarz | St. Cloud Times via AP 2017

Updated: 2:28 p.m.

A wide majority of Minnesotans support allowing refugees to be resettled in their communities, according to a new MPR News/Star Tribune Minnesota Poll.

The poll found 59 percent support refugee resettlement compared to 29 percent who oppose it. Twelve percent are undecided.

Minnesota Republicans oppose refugees in their area.

The findings come after President Trump has given local governments the authority to stop refugee resettlement within their borders. While the practice is being challenged in federal court, it allowed counties across the state to weigh on the federal policy and created chaos and confusion as local officials raced to meet a deadline.

The poll of 800 registered Minnesota voters was conducted between Feb. 19 and Feb. 20. It has a margin for error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

The findings show strong support for immigrants and refugees in Hennepin and Ramsey counties. That's where the majority of refugees have settled, and it's where poll respondent Jeremy Wendt said immigrants have made the economy stronger.

"People don’t choose to uproot their lives and move to another country for fun,” he said. “They do it because they’re making very difficult decisions that I and my family have never been faced with."

Wendt, of Minneapolis, runs a nonprofit that offers in-home care for adults with disabilities. If it weren’t for Somali, Liberian and Kenyan immigrants, he said he would have trouble filling these jobs.

“The need for in-home support workers is only going up as the years go by and it's projected to be just an absolute crisis of need for people,” he said.

In Hennepin and Ramsey counties, 74 percent of poll respondents said they support refugee resettlement in their communities. The results are more split in the suburbs and greater Minnesota.

And while 84 percent of Democrats support refugee resettlement, only 28 percent of Republicans who were polled said they did.

For this poll, Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy interviewed 800 registered Minnesota voters from Feb. 17 to 19, using a mix of land lines and cell phones. Of these voters, 37 percent identified as Democrats, 32 percent as Republicans and 31 percent as independents or with other parties.

Just under one-third of voters were from Hennepin and Ramsey counties, while 29 percent came from other suburban counties in the Twin Cities metro area. Southern Minnesota was home to 20 percent of respondents and northern Minnesota to 19 percent. These figures correspond to those areas' share of Minnesota's registered voters.

Voters were asked three questions specific to immigration. On the issue of the economy, 62 percent say immigrants help the economy, rather than hurt it.

But results show less support for immigrants who don't have authorization to be in the country.

One question asked whether undocumented immigrants should be allowed to have driver's licenses, and 51 percent said they should not.

Whether to support undocumented residents' having driver's licenses.

Rich Pauly, of Dassel, Minn., about an hour west of Minneapolis, was in the majority.

“Why should they have a privilege to have a driver’s license if you’re here illegally?” he said.

Efforts to grant access to driver's licenses for people in the country without authorization have stalled as Republicans and Democrats at the Capitol struggle to reach an agreement.

The DFL-controlled House passed a bill last year that would allow it, but it faces opposition in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Gov. Tim Walz supports the move, arguing it's not fair to deny licenses to those without legal status. He blames a complex immigration system that prevents many immigrants from getting papers.

In an interview with MPR News last month, Walz said he'll continue to push to allow unauthorized residents the ability to get licenses because he said they’re driving now without them.

"These folks are driving to work, they're driving to take their children to the doctor when they need to,” he said. “It makes no sense to me that we wouldn't bring that at least out of the shadows and make sure they provide proof of insurance."

Pauly, who manages a store that sells snow plows and lawn mowers, said he'd rather the government focus on the needs of veterans and homeless people before helping immigrants and refugees.

Pauly approves of the job Trump is doing and said a border wall should've been built a long time ago. But he said he hasn't completely made up his mind about who he'll be voting for this November.

"My feeling is we need to take care of our problems before we can start taking care of somebody else's problems,” he said.

MPR News data reporter David H. Montgomery contributed to this story.

Read the survey question wording relevant to this and previous reports.

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