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Lincoln Co. to wait on further court activity before taking action

IVANHOE — The Lincoln County Board decided Tuesday that the best course of action on the nationwide refugee resettlement issue was to take no action at all.

Commissioners discussed the issue at their regular meeting and received a legal interpretation from County Attorney Glen Petersen. It was noted that President Donald Trump’s decision to require states and counties to give their consent for political refugees to settle within their jurisdictions faces a court challenge.

Petersen advised the board to wait until further court activity determines whether or not any action at the local level is necessary.

“We have a court ruling that declares the president’s order unconstitutional,” Petersen said. “It’s pretty much stopped everyone from taking action on it. There’s a need for clarity.”

He said the ruling is likely to be appealed to a higher court. Unless it is overturned, the current ruling would mean that any local action on refugee resettlement would have no bearing on where federal officials might place refugees.

Even if the ruling is overturned, there’s legally no restriction on where refugees might choose to live. They could be officially resettled somewhere that’s consented to have them, and then move to another place for a job opportunity or the chance to be be near relatives and friends.

Carol Biren of Southwest Health and Human Services, who attended Tuesday’s board meeting in Ivanhoe, agreed that holding off on casting a vote is a reasonable response given the legal uncertainty.

She said SHHS has attempted to be present at any meeting within its six-county area that has refugee resettlement on its agenda.

One reason is to be available as a resource if elected officials or guests at the meeting have questions. Another is to hear comments made at meetings to gauge the opinions and level of knowledge that the public has about why political refugees are brought to the United States,

No citizens were present at Tuesday’s board meeting. Biren said other meetings have led to a variety of viewpoints, both in favor and against refugees acceptance.

“We’ve been surprised by some of the comments,” she said. “We want to clear up any misconceptions people might have about refugees not being thoroughly documented. It’s important to distinguish between political refugees and immigrants, especially those that enter the country illegally.”

She noted that refugees are people who’ve been forced to leave their homelands because of war or another form of oppression. Their first stop upon fleeing their situation is usually a refugee camp.

Among Minnesota’s 87 counties, only Beltrami County in the northern part of the state voted not to accept refugees.

More than 20 other counties gave their consent before the court ruling. The list includes the counties of Murray, Pipestone, Nobles, Brown, Kandiyohi, most Twin Cities metro area counties, and those that include the cities of Rochester, Mankato and Moorhead.

If given a choice, Biren said most refugees want to be placed somewhere that already has at least several refugees from their home country.

“They know they’ll probably never go back,” she said. “The only ties they still have involve relatives or friends who also had to leave, and they want to maintain those ties. It’s what almost anybody would do.”

In other business the board authorized County Environmental Officer Robert Olsen to transfer general funds to two ditch accounts in order to create positive fund balances for the ditch systems.

Negative fund balances sometimes occur when ditch maintenance costs are higher than expected. Minnesota’s state statutes allow money to be transferred from county general funds when needed to have money available in the ditch accounts.

“They aren’t supposed to operate with negative balances,” said Lincoln County Auditor Deb Vierhuf. “The amounts of the transfers are small enough to be absorbed into the budget with no adjustments.”

The board also made a third and final 2020 appointment to the county planning and zoning board to fill expiring three-year terms.

Commissioners appointed Rich Borreson of Tyler as a new member to replace an incumbent who did not wish to serve another term. At their organizational meeting on Jan. 7 they re-appointed two other incumbents, Ron Bunjer from the Arco area and Wendy Schalek Sterzinger of rural Hendricks.

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