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Judge’s order raises questions for Lyon Co. refugee issue

MARSHALL — Lyon County commissioners had planned to hold a public hearing on the issue of refugee resettlement on Jan. 28. But after the actions of a federal judge this week, it’s not certain whether commissioners will need to go forward with it.

Lyon County Administrator Loren Stomberg said commissioners will discuss the matter Tuesday at their next regular meeting.

Commissioners had originally planned to consider a request from United Community Action Partnership, for consent to continue refugee resettlement work in Lyon County. In September, President Donald Trump issued an executive order requiring states and counties to give written consent to refugee resettlement within their jurisdictions.

However, on Wednesday a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction, which would stop enforcement of the executive order.

“The order essentially brings everything back to the status quo,” Stomberg said. “That takes away the need for the request of the county.”

U.S. District Judge Peter Messitte in Maryland issued a preliminary injunction requested by three national refugee resettlement agencies that sued to challenge the executive order, the Associated Press reported.

In his 31-page ruling, Messitte said the agencies are likely to succeed in showing that the executive order is unlawful because it gives state and local governments veto power over the resettlement of refugees.

Church World Service, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service and HIAS — a Jewish nonprofit — filed the lawsuit in Greenbelt, Maryland, on Nov. 21. They are three of the nine national organizations agencies that have agreements with the federal government to provide housing and other services for refugees.

Agency leaders say the executive order effectively gives governors and county leaders a veto in the resettlement process. The agencies also argue the order illegally conflicts with the 1980 Refugee Act.

The Trump administration has capped the number of refugee admissions at 18,000 for the current fiscal year. About 30,000 refugees were resettled in the U.S. during the past fiscal year; between 150,000 and 200,000 remain in the pipeline for possible U.S. resettlement while they live abroad, according to Linda Evarts, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys.

Only a small number of refugees have settled in Lyon County in recent years, however. UCAP representatives say they’ve worked with a total of 37 refugees in Lyon County over the past three years. At last week’s county board meeting, UCAP Family Services Director Angela Larson said getting the county’s consent for resettlement would mean refugees could reunite with family members in Lyon County, and still receive federal funding to help them get settled. After initial resettlement, refugees can move wherever they want, but at their own expense.

UCAP works with refugees to help them get initial resettlement services like referrals to English language and employment programs, and help with school enrollments.

Last week, discussion of UCAP’s request drew around 20 members of the public, many of whom spoke out against allowing refugee resettlement in Lyon County. In response, county commissioners called for a special meeting on Jan. 28.

However, Stomberg said the preliminary injunction would mean there’s no need for the county to give its consent for resettlement. Stomberg said he doesn’t have the power to cancel the special meeting, but the matter will go before county commissioners on Tuesday. It will be up to commissioners to decide how to proceed.

Several southwestern Minnesota counties, including Kandiyohi, Brown, Nobles, Murray and Pipestone County, had already given consent for refugee resettlement. Last week, Beltrami County in northern Minnesota became the first in the state to ban refugee resettlement.

In December, Gov. Tim Walz gave consent for refugee resettlement within the state of Minnesota. But not all U.S. states have decided the same way.

Texas, which took in more refugees than any other state during the 2018 fiscal year, became the first state known to reject the resettlement of new refugees, the Associated Press reported. Gov. Greg Abbott said in a letter released Jan. 10 that Texas “has been left by Congress to deal with disproportionate migration issues resulting from a broken federal immigration system.”

At least 41 states have publicly agreed to accept refugees, but a governor’s decision doesn’t preclude local officials from refusing to give their consent. For instance, the Democratic mayor of Springfield, Massachusetts, has refused to give written consent for refugees to be resettled in the city.

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