What is a Refugee?
United States law describes a refugee as someone who:
Is located outside of 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 able to resettle in another country
Is admissible to the United States
In the last ten years no refugees have been resettled in Pine County; in fact the last person known to the Pine County Board of Commissioners to have resettled in Pine County was in 1949.
Executive Order 1088 on September 26, 2019 requires that states and counties determine whether they are willing to allow resettlement of refugees in their areas. The deadline according to the Executive Order is January 21. There is an injunction on the Executive Order based on the legality of the determinations. This injunction stops enforcement while the Executive Order is being examined by the judicial process. After June 1, 2020 those areas that have not consented may not have refugees with primary residences in that area.
Before making any decisions the Pine County Board of Commissioners invited Rachele King, State Coordinator of Refugee Resettlement for the Minnesota Department of Human Services to answer questions. King provided, at the request of the Commissioners, an overview of the process of becoming a refugee in the United States.
Refugees in the U.S. need to go through an intensive process of application before they are considered for an invitation. This process according to King takes a minimum of two years, but could take a decade or even an entire generation.
Commissioner Steve Chaffee asked King if she could explain the difference between refugees and those with other immigration statuses, including those in the country illegally. According to King, beyond the intensive immigration process, the services provided once arriving in the United States are different for refugees. A one time grant of $1,175 is provided to refugees. They are provided with federally and state funded programs that focus on employment. After a set period, bills are sent to the person for the cost of their arrival in the U.S.
Because of the number of services provided for those coming to the United States with refugee status, placement locations are very specific. People are usually placed within a 50 mile radius of a certified program provider. Pine County, in its entirety, is outside of this mileage requirement. Placement can also occur with family members of the individual, but according to King their records show no refugee status individuals living in Pine County since 2000.
If an individual wants to move into an area outside of the mileage radius, they no longer qualify for special services. However, they are still responsible for the cost of their arrival. King was also asked about the inclination for refugees to use social services, like food stamps. Statistics prove that those refugees using public assistance are usually on the programs for less time than other citizens.
Commissioner Steve Hallan asked King how services could be expanded. King responded that careful communication between local, county and state governing entities would have to take place. Specific services would need to be funded and in place before anyone could be placed in the county.
The commissioners thanked King for her time. No action was taken by the county at this time. Depending on the outcome of the injunction, a formal decision might be made at a later time. King urged the commissioners to feel free to reach out to her office at the Minnesota Department of Human Services with questions.