I’ve received a lot of attention lately for stating that I’ll be on a plane to D.C. when I’m governor to tell Attorney General Sessions that, until we say otherwise, Minnesota’s participation in the federal refugee resettlement program will end.
Not surprisingly, I received many nasty, hateful comments for that position and, just as predictably, few of those sharing that message asked me why I held my position. They were not looking for an intelligent discussion.
So, for those who actually care about discussing important issues, let me share my reasoning (as I believe rational discourse is still possible in today’s world).
Minnesota has a very long and generous history taking in refugees from war-torn and oppressive countries. In fact, Minnesota currently has 13% of the country’s refugees, but only 2% of the country’s population, making us the state with the highest number of refugees per capita in America.
In 2016, Minnesota accepted 3059 refugees from other countries. We also, however, became home to many “secondary” refugees – those who are originally placed in other states but then move to Minnesota. In the two-year period ending in 2015, Minnesota became home to more secondary refugees than all other states combined.
Minnesota has been more generous and welcoming with this program than any other state in the nation – by a lot.
Many Minnesotans are understandably concerned with the tremendous cost this influx of refugees brings with it.
A Notre Dame study recently found that an average refugee costs taxpayers $107,000, and that figure does not include costs to school district, county or city taxpayers, so the actual cost is considerably higher.
And, the agencies that sponsor bringing new refugees to Minnesota receive about $1000 per refugee from the federal government (as does each refugee) but have no obligation to help them integrate, assimilate or succeed after 90 days of placing them.
This is not to mention the security concerns that high levels of resettlement from countries with terrorist connections can also bring. For example, the House Homeland Security Committee found in 2015 that Minnesota led all states in contributing foreign fighters to ISIS. And, of course, we recently learned of millions of dollars stolen from taxpayers through fake childcare centers and sent to areas of Somalia controlled by Islamic terrorists.
Last year, residents of St. Cloud raised concerns about the cost to their schools and city of a large influx of Somali refugees. These citizens requested a temporary pause to further refugee settlement pending an economic impact study, but they instead were accused of being hateful and bigoted. While a thoughtful debate could have ensued regarding whether the city can dictate resettlement or what the costs to taxpayers are, their request was instead labeled as “despicable” and “racist.”
And that same attitude was taken by our own Governor Mark Dayton in St. Cloud when concerns were raised about the effects of refugee resettlement. He told St. Cloud citizens expressing their worries: “If you are that intolerant, if you are that much of a racist or a bigot, then find another state.”
The concerns raised by citizens about refugee resettlement, however, are not intolerant and racist, they are reasonable and real.
I liken it to my family taking in a foster child. We might decide that we can afford to take in a child in need, possibly foregoing certain other family expenses. If the government then comes back the next year and tells us we need to take in 14 more foster children, we would have to say no. That would not make us intolerant; it would make us realistic.
I don’t believe the refugee resettlement program is inherently bad – it has worked well in the past, but at some point it became less about helping refugees assimilate and succeed in America and more about the money incentive given to sponsoring agencies.
After all that Minnesota has done – far more than any other state in the U.S. – it’s time to end our participation in this program. There will come a time when Minnesotans are ready again to participate, but until then, let’s focus on helping the refugees we already have here achieve the American Dream.
And yes, I recognize that by taking such a straightforward (and politically incorrect) position on this, I’ll be called every horrible name under the sun. The status quo in politics is to ride the fence or refuse to talk about these difficult issues to avoid such negative reactions. But I’m tired of the status quo and refuse to ride the fence. As your governor, you’ll always know where I stand and why I stand there.
Jeff Johnson is the GOP-endorsed candidate for governor.