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Federal Refugee Policy Creates Tension in the Midwest

In the past 20 years, Wisconsin has accepted roughly 17,000 refugees. (Fabio Penna/Flickr)
In the past 20 years, Wisconsin has accepted roughly 17,000 refugees. (Fabio Penna/Flickr)
January 9, 2020

MADISON, Wis. -- Tense debates have surfaced in the upper Midwest over whether to accept refugees at the local level.

Local governments were given the authority to choose in an order signed by President Donald Trump.

In response to the order, Gov. Tony Evers issued a letter affirming Wisconsin's support of refugees.

But at the county level, some of the debate has been more nuanced, including whether there should be caps on numbers of refugees.

While no Wisconsin community has voted to stop accepting refugees, Richelle Friedman, director of public policy for the Coalition on Human Needs, says the rhetoric is still unnerving.

"Our unwillingness to accept people that are in desperate situations I think does not reflect positively on us as a nation," she states.

In neighboring Minnesota, Beltrami County officials voted this week not to accept refugees. The vote was seen as symbolic, since the county hasn't resettled refugees for some time.

A spirited debate in North Dakota last month resulted in a county board's close vote to continue accepting refugees, but capping the number.

As these debates play out, Friedman says local governments should remind themselves how vital a role refugees can play once they are resettled in certain communities.

"Often, immigrants and refugees are hard working," she stresses. "They're dedicated. They're people that want to make a better life for themselves and their family."

In communities where there's been resistance to resettle newcomers, opponents have cited concerns over the potential cost burden for local governments.

Disclosure: Coalition on Human Needs contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy & Priorities, Census, Children's Issues, Poverty Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Mike Moen, Public News Service - WI