FERGUS FALLS -- On Sept. 26, President Donald Trump issued an executive order requiring local governments such as Otter Tail County to provide written consent to the federal government before refugees can be resettled in jurisdictions such as counties.

Otter Tail County commissioners, on Tuesday, Dec. 17, voted in favor of an official consent. Official documents will be submitted to the U.S. Department of State.

The county board followed the recommendation by County Administrator John Dinsmore to vote in favor of a consent declaration.

Starting June 1, 2020, Trump’s executive order applies to all arriving refugees, including refugees who have family members already living in Minnesota.

“People need to keep in mind that incoming refugees are vetted by the federal government and are not illegal immigrants,” said County Commissioner Wayne Johnson of Pelican Rapids. “If they have family members here, Otter Tail County is the best place for them.”

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Refugees are most often in need of international protection. Those seeking resettlement in the United States must pass through a series of steps to ensure they will not be security risks.

The federal Office of Refugee Resettlement, established in 1980, is responsible for funding and administering federal programs for domestic resettlement and assistance to refugees. The office makes available resources for employment training.

Otter Tail County coordinates assistance to refugees not only with help from the federal government but also with Rachele King, state refugee coordinator with the Minnesota Department of Human Services.

Many refugees work in food processing in many areas of Minnesota.

The turkey plant in Pelican Rapids brought in migrant workers from Mexico and Texas in the 1970s. Refugees came to town from Southeast Asia in the 1980s and refugees from Bosnia arrived in Pelican Rapids during the 1990s.

A large number of Somali immigrants began to arrive in Pelican Rapids in the early 2000s.

“Many of these same people now own homes in Pelican Rapids,” Johnson added.

County Board Chairman Doug Huebsch of Perham said area businesses need more workers, particularly those in the food industry.

“Most of those business owners support permission for more refugees coming into Otter Tail County,” Huebsch said.

Most of the people attending the county board meeting on Dec. 17 supported the decision to send a formal consent to the federal government, allowing for more refugees to come into Otter Tail County.

However, after the vote was taken, three county residents expressed opposition to the county board decision. One person expressed concern for the costs to taxpayers who will need to provide financial support to more refugees.

Refugee resettlement in Otter Tail County from 2009 to 2018 included:

  • 61 people from Somalia,
  • 18 individuals from Afghanistan
  • 5 from Haiti
  • and 3 from Iraq.

The state of Minnesota, from 1979 to 2018, has taken in 23,990 refugees from Somalia, 22,033 people from Laos (Hmong) and 15,074 refugees from Vietnam.

The United States Refugee Act of 1980 recognizes the policy of the United States to respond to the needs of people subject to persecution in their homelands. This response includes resettlement opportunities for admitted refugees.

“It’s well and good that we in Otter Tail County have a system of support for integration into our communities and rural areas,” said County Commissioner Lee Rogness of Fergus Falls.