Why Minnesota should welcome a ‘time-out’

Minnesota is the Leading U.S. Destination for Refugees

The Trump administration’s executive order on foreign terrorists is primarily aimed at addressing security threats from failed states, but the order also begins to address the unaccountable nature of the refugee resettlement program and its impact on the various states.

Refugee resettlement is a federal program funded heavily by state taxpayers. The federal government looks for three things when placing refugees: generous welfare and social services, skilled placement agencies (e.g., Arrive Ministries, Lutheran Social Services, and Catholic Charities), and the presence of kin.

Not surprisingly, Minnesota has the highest rate of refugee resettlement on a per capita basis in the country.

Center of the American Experiment cannot report with any precision who has been placed here and what it costs. We cannot assess the impact of refugees on school budgets or the availability of affordable housing. Over decades, the growing financial and social costs have been absorbed, with little discussion or oversight, into state and local budgets.

Refugees are eligible for the same welfare benefits as Minnesota citizens, and much more. Yet refugee specific costs are not readily available. Moreover, the public data is not consistent across federal and state databases.

Most states agreed to be part of the refugee program decades ago. Even as the world has grown more chaotic, the federal government has grown indifferent to the disproportionate concentration of refugees among the various states.

Minnesota now welcomes refugees primarily from states where Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and/or animism constitute the majority religions. Most come from failed Muslim-majority states like Somalia. Refugees often arrive with little proficiency in English and without skills required for gainful employment. They also bring cultural and law enforcement challenges: The practice of polygamy and female genital mutilation, low workforce participation by men, and inexperience with the requirements of citizenship and voting.

*This measure reflects government-related contributions (of which there was at least $63 million) as a portion of total revenue rather than contributions because of the organization’s method of reporting government funding.

Refugees need hands-on, individualized help if they are to transition to self-sufficiency and U.S. citizenship. The irony is that settling large numbers of refugees and placing them on welfare decreases their likelihood of success, because it undermines the desire to integrate. It also relieves Minnesotans of the burden of spending any of their own money or time on this humanitarian enterprise.

To make integration even less likely, placement agencies, which get most of their budgets from government contracts, cannot share their faith with refugees. “The Department of State has cooperative agreements with… resettlement agencies to resettle refugees. While some of the agencies have religious affiliations, they are not allowed to proselytize” (U.S. Department of State).

Yet the resettlement program has high and hurried expectations: “After one year, refugees are required to apply for permanent residence (commonly referred to as a green card), and after fi ve years in the United States, a refugee is eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship” (U.S. Department of State).

It is for all these reasons that the president’s order should be welcomed. It calls for “…state and local jurisdictions (to) be granted a role in… determining the… settlement in their jurisdictions of… refugees.” It also calls for greater transparency and accountability by gathering and reporting basic data including “the long-term costs of the… program at the federal, state, and local levels, along with recommendations about how to curtail those costs.” It also wisely looks at what it would cost to help refugees stay closer to home so they can eventually return to rebuild their countries.

Minnesota needs much more time than the Trump executive order provides to figure out how to introduce ourselves properly to the many and diverse refugees who already call Minnesota home, but it is a welcome and long-overdue shift in policy.