ST. CLOUD, Minn. – The St. Cloud City Council voted against a motion on Monday night to conduct a study session to get a better understanding of refugee resettlement and immigration in St. Cloud.
In September 2016, St. Cloud made national headlines when a Somali refugee stabbed ten people at the Crossroads Center Mall before he was shot and killed by an off-duty police officer. All ten people survived the attack.
The motion for a study session was put forth by Councilman George Hontos after an open forum during the meeting was dominated by residents who expressed their concerns to the council about safety and the economic impact of refugee resettlement to taxpayers.
“We are asking for a thorough and transparent impact study which includes both costs and benefits of resettlement of refugees and second wave migration. As it is estimated that the immigrant refugee population is currently reaching a quarter of the area’s population and an honest open discussion of just how many immigrants and refugees that the area can reasonably absorb and support is a fair and reasonable and responsible request,” said one resident during the open forum.
Residents spoke about being excluded from meetings in the area held by Catholic Charities and Lutheran Social Services, two of the organizations that have brought refugees into Minnesota and resettled them into cities and towns throughout the state. Some others talked about not feeling safe in their community.
“My grandchildren, ages 6 to 9 can not go to a park without being intimidated and terrorized. On July 4th, they were surrounded by a group of 15 to 20 Somali teen boys and one of them exposed themselves to them,” explained resident Margaret Starry, who spoke at the meeting’s open forum. “I have a police report and photos as evidence, as well as a report to Stearns County Sheriff’s department. And as of this date, to my knowledge, there’s been no arrests or citations or a follow up.”
Starry said according to the Spring 2017 St. Cloud Survey of Residents, 47.2% feel crime and safety should be a top issue. She said the City of St. Cloud gets an “F” in the crime category according to the website Areavibes. “Overall, crime rate in St. Cloud is 84% higher than the national average,” Starry told the council.
After the motion was put forward by Hontos, a lengthy discussion ensued among the council. Councilman Steve Laraway told the council that refugee resettlement was a federal issue and not a city issue.
“Trying to argue this is all federal, we are also federal,” said Councilman Jeff Johnson, who spoke in favor of the study. “We are local, state and federal all wrapped in one. And to say it’s not a city issue, to me, I don’t know how you can come to that conclusion. Is it fear here, or something like that?”
“I was very disappointed, in a sense I feel like our decision betrayed the trust of the public,” Johnson told KNSI-AM after the motion was voted down.
Starry told Alpha News citizens will ask the city council to reconsider their decision to conduct a special study on the refugee situation.
“We feel the City and LSS (Lutheran Social Services) are in violation of 8 US Code 1522 by not allowing taxpayers to attend LSS meetings and keeping them informed. We are confident it will be resolved.”