MOORHEAD — The Clay County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday morning, Dec. 17, to allow refugee resettlement to continue, saying that refugees are welcome in the city of Moorhead and throughout the county.
“Clay County has always welcomed refugees, and I see no reason for change,” Commissioner Grant Weyland said.
Four concerned citizens stood up to speak in support of the motion, saying they were grateful the issue had not become the “circus” that Burleigh County in North Dakota experienced.
Among the four was Waabishki Giiwedin Miquay Tracey L. Wilkie, a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa.
“I have met many refugees that love it here and do everything they are supposed to do,” Wilkie said. “I’m grateful that you are welcoming of new people and welcome them to our lands.”
Before voting, Commissioner Kevin Campbell spoke of his experience as the first generation of immigrant parents. He said his Canadian mother worked hard, paid her taxes, paid her Social Security, but never became a U.S. citizen. In the 1980s when the Fargo-Moorhead area saw hundreds of Vietnamese arriving, many of the refugees he knew called America “freedom country,” he said.
“The process does come with challenges, but the important thing about Moorhead, Minnesota and Clay County is that we work together and we got plenty of work for them,” Campbell said.
Before Tuesday's vote, County Administrator Stephen Larson outlined the numbers of refugees Clay County has received. He noted that the national cap on refugees recently hit a low point under President Donald Trump’s administration, and that Clay County has also seen a decline in refugee numbers. The county received seven refugees in 2017, but so far in 2019 the county has received none.
“It’s important for citizens to understand that we’re talking about people who are persecuted in foreign countries and are unable to return to their home countries,” Larson said. “It’s important to understand that if Clay County acted to refuse, then refugees would not be welcome.”
In Clay County, all refugees receive funds to start a new life. They also receive counseling and assistance for finding work, medical care, housing, driver’s licenses and schooling for children.
About 70% of refugees who have arrived in Clay County are women and children, Larson said.
In September, President Trump handed decision-making power to state and local governments on whether to receive or reject refugees. The Cass County Commission voted unanimously Dec. 2 to continue refugee resettlement.
Although votes to continue resettlement passed easily in Clay and Cass counties, North Dakota grabbed national headlines last week when Burleigh County seemingly stood poised to become the first county in America to reject refugees.
After intense debate with dozens of concerned residents speaking for and against refugee resettlement, the Burleigh County Commission voted 3-2 to continue resettlement programs.
Since 1997, Lutheran Social Services has resettled 8,704 refugees in North Dakota, with the majority, 5,917, in Fargo, 1,231 in Grand Forks, 683 in Bismarck, 783 in West Fargo, and 110 in Moorhead, according to LSS statistics.