Refugee resettlement, unity efforts prompt debate in St. Cloud
ST. CLOUD, Minn. — Jeff Goerger has a message for St. Cloud — the temporary ban on refugees being proposed by City Council member Jeff Johnson is not constitutional and not something the City Council as a whole supports.
On Monday, Oct. 23, Goerger, also a council member, introduced a resolution "in support of a just and welcoming community" to refute Johnson's resolution calling for a moratorium on refugee resettlement. Goerger's resolution passed on a 5-1 vote, with Johnson opposing it; council member George Hontos was absent.
"I think it's important to show people this one guy bringing forward a resolution is not the voice of the City Council or the voice of the people of our community," Goerger said prior to the meeting. "The mayor has been asking for the council to take some action. I feel it was my place to put my thoughts on paper and bring it forward."
At the Oct. 9 City Council meeting, Johnson said he would bring forward a resolution on Oct. 23 to create a moratorium on refugee resettlement. Johnson submitted a draft resolution to city administration on Oct. 16, and the resolution was emailed to City Council members the next day.
Last week, Johnson said he planned to wait to bring forward the resolution until the Nov. 6 meeting. Johnson's motion was not acted upon Monday night, and he was unavailable to clarify what he plans to do next.
Area organizations — including #UniteCloud — responded to the proposed resolution by showing up at Monday's meeting.
#UniteCloud created a Facebook group called "Support Refugees: St. Cloud City Council."
More than 300 people showed up at the meeting, many holding signs. Some of the signs stated "Welcome Refugees!" and "We are one community! Don't divide us!" Other signs stated "Save our city" and "Stop refugees now."
Johnson's resolution calls for a city moratorium on the placement of additional refugees through primary resettlement until Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota — one of six nonprofit organizations that helps settle refugees in Minnesota — demonstrates it is in compliance with federal statutes.
The resolution also calls for an independent economic impact study to detail the costs to taxpayers and an explanation as to how the number of primary resettlement refugees is calculated.
The resolution cites the Refugee Act of 1980, which states "local voluntary agency activities should be conducted in close cooperation and advance consultation with (s)tate and local governments."
After Johnson's proposal, St. Cloud Mayor Dave Kleis said he doesn't think the moratorium is constitutional, and said the city's budget does not include refugee resettlement costs. Kleis suggested the council replace the resolution with one that affirms its support for all St. Cloud residents.
"This is a response to (Johnson's resolution), directly dealing with parts of his resolution," Goerger said. "The main thing is to dispel the impression that St. Cloud is not welcoming and that St. Cloud is being hurt by the change in demographics."
Goerger's resolution mirrors Johnson's, and states that the Refugee Act of 1980 "does not create a mandate" for local city governments and that state and county governments "are responsible for the funding, management, and delivery of Social Services."
Goerger's resolution states "St. Cloud is welcoming to all residents without regard to age, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, race, ethnicity, religion or country of origin, and we renew our commitment to foster a community in which all people have the right to pursue life, liberty and happiness."
Goerger said Monday he has received a number of emails in response to Johnson's moratorium on refugees. But most of the respondents, Goerger said, asked him to not support Johnson's resolution.
"It's at least 20 to 1," he said.
After Goerger's resolution was introduced, Johnson said he was disappointed he did not see the resolution ahead of time. He said upwards of 80 percent of his resolution was word-for-word from a federal document.
"We are in violation of federal law right here in St. Cloud," he said.
Goerger said Monday he thinks Johnson's moratorium is unconstitutional and "certainly puts the city of St. Cloud in a bad light."
Before the meeting, Goerger said he thought the resolution would be passed by his fellow City Council members.
"We all took the oath to uphold the constitution," he said.
Moorhead and Fargo passed similar resolutions this fall. Moorhead unanimously approved a resolution Sept. 25, and Fargo passed on a 4-1 vote a resolution Oct. 9 that tagged the city as an "inclusive community." The resolutions were responses to national rallies and hate speech incidents in the area.
Local organizations are also planning events to encourage discussion about questions people might have about Muslims and refugees.
This story is republished with permission of the St. Cloud Times.