Beltrami County in northern Minnesota came under scrutiny in January when it voted to refuse refugee resettlement there — even though it is not a typical destination for newcomers. The Twin Cities and their suburbs are more common destinations for resettled refugees.
The vote came after an executive order from President Trump required local counties to declare their stance on refugees [which was temporarily halted by a judge’s injunction in mid-January]. Beltrami was the first county in the state, and one of the first in the nation, to explicitly reject refugees. County commissioner Jim Lucachick explained, “I don’t think it’s prudent to bring refugees to our county, when we need to take care of all of the folks that we need to take care of.”
Economics is generally cited by both sides of the debate around newcomers to the U.S. Some believe refugees and by extension immigrants are a drain on resources. Others point to statistics that show the long-term economic benefits of immigration outweigh the short-term costs of resettlement. Counties that have attracted immigrants — such as Kandiyohi, Watonwan, Lyon, and Nobles in the south — are becoming more economically able to offer living wages, affordable housing, and educational training.
Jane Graupman, executive director of the International Institute of Minnesota, points out another economic factor: “With baby boomers retiring, low unemployment, and low birth rates, we must recognize that newcomers are an economic and cultural opportunity for our state.”
Case Study: Southern Minnesota
Minnesota Congressional District 1 includes Rochester, Mankato, Winona, Austin, Owatonna, Albert Lea, New Ulm, and Worthington. According to New American data, it is home to over 40,000 immigrants who pay about $372.5 million in taxes each year and have $1 billion in spending power.
Irma Márquez Trapero grew up in the rural southern Minnesota town of St. James, in a county that voted yes to refugee resettlement. “Since moving here in 1999, I’ve seen attitudes towards immigrants fluctuate,” she says. “Sometimes we hear the negative voices more loudly than other times, but overall Minnesota has remained a state that is open to immigrants.
Márquez Trapero, who immigrated to the U.S. when she was nine years old, is Executive Director of LatinoLEAD and a board member of the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota. She notes, “Immigrants and refugees have become crucial to Minnesota’s economy.”
A 2016 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine detailed the cost of public services received vs. the taxes paid by first-generation, immigrant-led households for each state.
The report found that in Minnesota, the state’s public services for refugees cost $4,400 more than what those households paid in taxes. By the next generation, however, Minnesota had a fiscal gain of between $2,300 and $4,700 per household.
December 2019 data from the Minnesota Department of Human Services notes that resettled refugees pay $227 million in local and state taxes each year.