GRAND MARAIS, Minn. — Cook County is open for refugee resettlement — the result of a unanimous vote by county commissioners Tuesday.

The 5-0 affirmation complies with an executive order issued by President Donald Trump in September that requires states and counties to consent or opt out of resettlement consideration.

"I see this as a symbolic thing," Board Chair Myron Bursheim said. "My intention is to be welcoming."

"As far as I can see, this is an executive order to divide people," Commissioner Robert Deschampe said. "It puts us on the spot. It puts our community on the spot."

Commissioner Dave Mills said he'd never received more email feedback on an issue, all in support.

WDAY logo
listen live
watch live

"I see the issue from a practical and principled standpoint," he said. "I don't think it's going to directly affect our finances or operation. Out of principle, this is what our community values."

Commissioner Heidi Doo-Kirk said denying consent would be closing a door that was already open.

Commissioner Virginia Storlie said: "We would do the best we can with folks who need help."

Before the vote, commissioners heard a presentation from County Attorney Molly Hickey and 45 minutes of public testimony from about a dozen Cook County residents mostly in favor of consent.

"Sometimes we have to confront our own prejudices and fears," Anne Swallow Gillis said.

Many shared personal immigration stories and about their encounters with refugees — a special classification of immigrants approved by the United Nations and U.S. State Department who are fleeing persecution from war, violence and other forms of oppression or hardship. Speakers described refugees as the world's most vulnerable people, who leave their homes on short notice to embark on traumatic journeys to new lives.

Jay Arrowsmith DeCoux described his Irish descendants being turned away at Ellis Island, only to emigrate through Canada on their way to Minnesota.

"They became civil servants, business owners, husbands and wives," he said. "They have assimilated. This is the future for a lot of people."

Dissent focused on the county's ability to afford one or more refugee families.

"This isn't a 'save-the-world' place," Brad Thompson said.

MinnPost reported 10-year refugee resettlement figures throughout the state this week, noting none in Cook County in the 10 years through 2018.

"There is no recent history of refugee resettlement in Cook County," Hicken said. "My analysis is that the risk to issuing consent is very low.”

Cook County is not an active candidate for resettlement, given it resides far outside a 100-mile limit for refugees to be placed near a resettlement agency. One of the nonprofit, religious-based agencies would need to crop up near Duluth for Cook County to be considered, Hicken said.

So far, only Beltrami County in Minnesota has declined to give consent.

After Cook County approved its consent letter to the federal government, 11 Minnesota counties have now given consent, according to Hicken. The St. Louis County Board last week tabled the issue, pushing a decision back to May.

Bans on accepting refugees would go into effect June 1.