Refugee Resettlement: A Federal Policy Funded by Minnesotans

I got to visit with the Rookie at KSTP today, talking to all good Garage Logicians about the Trump administration’s order affecting refugees and certain immigrants. You can listen to that three-minute conversation here.

This is a very emotional and difficult topic, so as Rookie said today, let’s get educated. Here are some basic points to grasp.

  • Refugees are people fleeing their nation due to war or political/religious persecution, whereas immigrants are people who voluntarily come to the United States for a better opportunity. They both have legal status. (Illegals are just that. Illegal.)
  • Refugees and immigrants go through a different legal process to get here. And what happens to them when they get here is different. Our federal government works directly with the United Nations (UN) et. al. to identify and accept refugees, and then leap frogs over elected officials at the state and local level, by contracting with Voluntary Agencies (called VOLAGS) like Catholic Charities, Lutheran Social Services or Arrive Ministries, to place the refugee or refugee family. You have probably heard about that at church.
  • Once a refugee or refugee family is here, they are eligible for the same state-based welfare benefits as any citizen plus additional help from schools, government and charitable organizations (education, language, etc.).
  • The feds pay almost nothing out of their agency budgets (funded by U.S. taxpayers) except for plane tickets, limited support for less than a year and half the costs of Medicaid. (If the costs of this federal program had to be paid at the federal level, do you think Congress just might use it’s oversight more effectively?)
  • Refugees are placed in a particular state according to three basic criteria: what state has the resources (welfare) to take care of the refugees, what state already has refugees from the same country (kin), and what state has the best VOLAGs to work with from the feds perspective.
  • Minnesota rings all three bells. As a result, Minnesota has the largest number of refugees on a per capita basis of any state in the nation. Minnesota is also a magnet for what is called “secondary migration.” When refugees come the U.S., they are free to move to Minnesota if they chose.
  • And yet we do not seem to know how many refugees have been settled here, how many have migrated secondarily or what this all costs.

The Center has been working to answer two really simple questions:

  1. How does the refugee resettlement program work? That was pretty easy to figure out though we were surprised that local and state officials have no actual authority. The VOLAGS tell the feds how many people they can place. In other words, this is a federal program being funded by state dollars.
  1. What does the refugee resettlement program cost, and how has the state budgeted for the increasing influx of refugees? That I cannot tell you.

We have not been able to get reliable data on the question of cost. Both at the federal and state level, the data is obscured by apparently political considerations, or not kept at all.

Or if the data is kept, it is not visible to the public.

We have submitted two data practices requests to DHS (like a FOIA). While we wait, we have continued to try to build a respectable model to estimate the direct, and even indirect costs.

So we welcome the fact that the Trump administration hit the “pause button.”

Minnesota needs time to get a handle on this. When you invite people to your country, to your state, you have an obligation to help them get off to a good start so they can work and care for their families. When refugees come from such different cultures, climates and religions, the task is especially hard. If you keep piling on blindly, you cannot do a good job.

Minnesota and other states also need to push back on the feds. It is unconstitutional for the feds to commandeer state resources in pursuit of federal policies. And this is exactly what the feds have been doing, for decades.

So stay tuned. More to come.