Barron County has signaled it is willing to accept the resettlement of new refugee immigrants, directly from overseas, as the Barron County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a letter confirming the intention to the U.S. State Department.

The county board met Monday morning, Feb. 17, for a regular monthly meeting with 23 of 29 supervisors present.

The letter was prompted by a September 2019 executive order by President Donald Trump, requiring states and counties to affirm they would accept the resettlement of new refugees into their jurisdictions. If counties or states declined or did not reply, no new refugees would be placed in those states or counties from overseas. It would not prevent refugee immigrants from moving to Barron County from elsewhere in the U.S.

The deadline to respond was Jan. 21 and Barron County officials had intended to allow the individual county municipalities to handle the issue themselves, said Barron County Administrator Jeff French. However, it was learned last month that counties are the smallest unit of government—not townships, villages or cities—that can opt in, or opt out. That is why the county was voting on it now. Regardless, the city of Barron had voted in favor of it.

A draft letter had been sent to the State Department and other state agencies letting them know the county may be opting in after the deadline, French noted. He also added this concerned the legal immigration and resettlement of new refugees who have been screened and vetted by at least a half-dozen agencies.

In this case, refugees are determined to be displaced people who have fled their home country due to persecution of their race, religion, nationality, social group or political opinion. This was not approving the county to be a “sanctuary” for “illegal immigrants,” and it did not concern the status of “Dreamers” or asylum seekers.

Resettled refugees have to pay their way and would have to be employed within eight months, French noted.

Supervisor Bill Schradle, Dist. 7, towns of Turtle Lake, Vance Creek and Prairie Farm, asked where the immigrants could come from. Board Chair Louie Okey said refugees could come from anywhere, but there were limits set by the federal government.

Since the Refugee Act of 1980, the U.S. set a limit of 50,000 refugee immigrants per year, but that number can be changed by the president, with approval of Congress. Under this “Presidential Determination,” the number was set at 30,000 in 2019, and will be set at 18,000 in 2020. Still, the actual number can vary.

Okey and Supervisor Terry Lee, Dist. 4, town of Prairie Lake, noted that the Barron County Economic Development Corporation was working with immigrants from the Philippines to fill jobs. That program appeared to be working well, they said.

Supervisor Steve Johnson, Dist. 24, Rice Lake, asked if the county would lose anything, like funding opportunities, if it opted out. Okey said no funding would be lost, but it might take away some rights of refugees already in the county.

Supervisor Don Horstman, Dist. 27, towns of Cumberland and Stanfold, stated he wished there was more time to review the issue.

The board heard one public comment from a Barron man who said he was concerned about the “unintended consequences” of immigration.

“We don’t have to look very far to see what happens,” Putzke said. “Minnesota, Michigan. Super crime wave. There’s unintended consequences. [It] makes us feel good to bring in people who are not as fortunate as we are but there are unintended consequences.”

Putzke said it would increase costs for the department of health and human services, law enforcement and schools.

A motion was made by Supervisor Pete Olson, Dist. 12, Barron, to approve the draft letter. It was seconded by Supervisor Carol Moen, Distict 14, Cameron and town of Stanley. It was approved without opposition.

Absent from the meeting were supervisors Robert Anderson, Dist. 24, town of Rice Lake; Jerry McRoberts, Dist. 19, Rice Lake; Jess Miller, Dist. 22, Rice Lake; Roberta Mosentine, Dist. 11, Barron; Gary Taxdahl, Dist. 8, Turtle Lake and town of Almena; and Marv Thompson, Dist. 20, Rice Lake.