Post Script: Before we vote, who is a refugee to the U.S.


by Frances Edstrom, columnist

Beltrami County, Minn., voted earlier this month to not accept refugees coming into the country. The vote stems from the requirement from President Trump that states and counties advise the U.S. State Department, in writing, whether they will accept refugees that the department wishes to resettle in the country. A few other counties around the country have voted to reject resettling refugees, as well. Most of those counties, like Beltrami, are poor and struggling.

Texas governor Greg Abbott has indicated that the state will not be accepting any refugees in 2020 for resettlement, citing the fact that Texas has resettled more refugees than any other state in the last decade, and that, coupled with the fact that illegal aliens continue to settle there, and in other border states in greater numbers than elsewhere in the U.S., taxes the state’s resources.

Later this month, Winona County intends to hold a similar vote after a public meeting. Before that meeting is held, it might behoove Winona County to educate its residents about the pros and cons of voting to accept or reject resettling refugees, so that we are informed, not going on assumptions.

In issuing the executive order, President Trump said, “State and local governments are best positioned to know the resources and capacities they may or may not have available to devote to sustainable resettlement, which maximizes the likelihood refugees placed in the area will become self-sufficient and free from long-term dependence on public assistance. Some states and localities, however, have viewed existing consultation as insufficient.” Prior to the order, refugees were either reunited with family or assigned a destination based on a quarterly meeting near Washington, D.C., between government officials and nonprofit organizations that handle resettlement.

First among the things that voters need to understand is the difference between those people who have been granted refugee status and other people, who are classified as migrants, or illegal aliens. This is not a new concept in the U.S., or the world, as we know, and under nearly every administration, changes have been made to immigration law to balance being accepting of refugees against having porous borders that threaten our national safety. As part of this process, screening prospective refugees has been strengthened over the years, and no one is designated a refugee without passing that rigorous screening. Only then is that person considered for resettlement.

According to United States law, a refugee is someone who is located outside the United States, is of special humanitarian concern to the United States, demonstrates that they were persecuted or fear persecution due to race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group, is not firmly resettled in another country and is admissible to the United States.

A refugee does not include anyone who ordered, incited, assisted, or otherwise participated in the persecution of any person on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

Those approved as refugees receive a medical exam, a cultural orientation, help with travel plans, and a loan for travel to the United States. After they arrive, they will be eligible for medical and cash assistance.

It is easy to vilify people who would not take on the role of accepting refugees, as can be seen daily in the media. However, since this is a democracy we live in, it seems sensible to ask people if they would welcome refugees instead of simply settling them somewhere. No one wants to go where they aren’t welcome.

If Winona County does vote to accept refugees, those people could be a boon to our communities. For one thing, they would bring new students to our public schools, which are struggling. For another, in times when it is very difficult for businesses and farmers to hire enough staff, new people moving into the area would need jobs. Think how lucky any refugees would be to come to this wonderful community.


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