During its Jan. 7 meeting, the Redwood County Board of Commissioners voted to opt in to a program known as refugee resettlement based on a request it was presented.
According to Marie Meyers of Southwest Health and Human Services, who further explained the refugee resettlement program to the board that day, a vote to opt in to the program essentially qualified the county to receive federal funding for primary refugees who would resettle here.
For those primary refugees to resettle in an area, they must meet certain eligibility requirements, including having an existing family member in the area where they plan to live.
The funding that is allocated does not come to the county but to non-profit entities who then assist those refugees in finding a place to live and a job as a way to help them be successful.
In Redwood County, that work is conducted by United Community Action Partnership (UCAP).
Following the vote, concerns regarding the decision began to arise among residents who then shared those issues with the county board at its meeting held Jan. 21. More than 50 attended.
The refugee resettlement issue came to the forefront last fall when Donald Trump signed an executive order allowing decisions to be made at the county level about opting in or out of the program.
Since then a judge has handed down an injunction related to that order.
Many of those in attendance posed questions about the county board's decision.
In a prepared statement, Clark Phillips of Redwood Falls asked what the average cost per refuge would be and how much funding is estimated to come to the county for the refugee program. Phillips also asked what the local tax impact would be and whether or not there is an end date relating to allowing refugees into the county.
“Regardless of the answers to these questions, I personally would be against having refugee resettlement in Redwood County,” said Phillips.
His reasons for that are that the infrastructure is not currently set up to handle refugee resettlement.
Having good intentions to help refugees is not sufficient, he said.
Phillips added there is already a significant number of people in Redwood County who need help.
“We can not be all things to all people,” said Phillips. “Let’s take care of our citizens first.”
Then, he added, we can reconsider this issue.
Many raised concerns about the impact having refugees in Redwood County would have on everything from the schools to local police departments.
Marie Meyers, who was in attendance at the meeting, said there have not been any recent primary refugees who have moved to Redwood County.
Many raised concerns that it is not families who are moving but men who have a propensity to violence, sharing stories they have heard about issues which have arisen in other communities in the state.
Paul Sobocinski of Wabasso spoke in favor of the refugee resettlement program, adding for him it is a moral issue.
Sobocinski said his Christian faith compels him to help others, adding in the case of refugees there is a reason they have to leave their homes.
Roger Baumann of Wabasso addressed the issue of assimilation, adding for some who come as refugees what they believe contradicts the Constitution of the United States under which they live. He also raised concerns about whether or not they would actually become citizens.
Meyers said those who come as refugees are required to apply for a green card, adding the process toward citizenship is a hard one that takes five years to accomplish.
Following the open forum discussion at the start of its meeting, Lon Walling, county board chair, expressed his thanks to those who attended.
The majority of attendees requested the board rescind its vote.
The county commissioners took no action regarding the refugee resettlement program vote during the meeting.