Listening to each other at refugee public hearing

One by one they walked up to the podium in the Lyon County Law Enforcement Center basement.

One was a farmer. Several were educators, including a Marshall Public Schools District administrator. A couple ministers spoke as well. Others were just residents who wanted to share their feelings.

They all spoke in support of refugee resettlement in Lyon County during a public hearing a week ago held by the board of commissioners. The hearing was scheduled after the board’s Jan. 8 meeting. An agenda item addressed an executive order by President Donald Trump requiring state and local governments to give written consent to the federal government for refugees to be resettled in their jurisdictions. The item drew a large turnout of residents to comment on the issue. That led to a couple wise decisions made by the commissioners.

First, they decided to schedule the hearing so all concerned residents wishing to speak on the issue had that opportunity.

Secondly, the commissioners decided to continue plans to hold the hearing even after a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction that stopped enforcement of the executive order. They allowed their constituents the opportunity to be heard.

More than 200 people attended the hearing, including citizens who were once refugees who resettled in the county. Some expressed their deep appreciation of being offered the opportunity to become eventual U.S. citizens and also residents of Lyon County. Some talked about challenges to adapt to a new culture and surroundings. Others also talked about their jobs. Tears rolled down the cheeks of one refugee as she described seeing her village burning as her family fled the violence in their former country. She described the long hours her mother spent standing while working at her manufacturing job so she could provide for her family.

An assistant principal with a local school talked about his parents coming from Laos. He said he’s a “proud, proud, proud resident of Marshall.”

Soon after hearing the comments from the refugees, the farmer walked up to the podium. He asked, “how can I help?”

A teacher disputed claims that the school district was “dumbing down” curriculum to accommodate the refugees. She described the students from refugee families as intelligent and hard working.

Another resident recalled playing soccer as a young man with the new residents. He said he considers them friends to this day.

A Vietnam war veteran walked up and told the audience he once was filled with hate. Then one day, he told the audience, he was visiting with his grandfather. “They are folks, just like us,” the grandfather told him. That’s when he decided to take the time to get to know people who come from different countries.

Despite the words of support and tearful stories, there were a few opponents of resettlement in the county. And it was their right to share concerns. A woman from Redwood County asked about the cost to the taxpayer. A Wabasso resident charged the resettlement program is anti-U.S. Constitution.

There’s a good chance there were more residents in the audience with strong opinions against resettlement in Lyon County. However, for whatever reason, they chose to stay silent.

The meeting eventually ended after everybody who wanted to say something, did so. Clapping followed many of the comments — for and against. But for the most part, there were no mean-spirited comments.

Instead, voices were heard. We listened as our neighbors spoke about tragedies, opportunities, appreciation and offers to help.

Are there still disagreements?

Probably. But we now all have a better understanding of a complex issue. And we got to know our neighbors a little bit better.

Maybe lawmakers in St. Paul and Washington, D.C. could learn something from Lyon County during these very partisan days — a lot more listening and understanding goes a long ways.