Press Release

Attorney General Ellison defends refugees against President’s unlawful executive order

Joins coalition of 12 AGs in brief in support of refugee-resettlement organizations challenging Trump order; argues order violates federal law, interferes with state sovereignty, and undermines family reunification

Brief filed on same day Gov. Walz announces Minnesota will continue to accept refugees

December 13, 2019 (SAINT PAUL) — Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison today joined a coalition of 12 attorneys general, led by California, Illinois, and Maryland, in an amicus brief seeking to block President Trump’s unlawful executive order on refugee resettlement and the U.S. Department of State’s recent attempt to implement that order’s consent requirement. The executive order would radically upend the existing refugee resettlement process by requiring resettlement agencies to obtain written consent from state and county authorities before being able to place refugees in their jurisdictions.

In the brief filed in HIAS, INC. v. Donald Trump, Attorney General Ellison and the coalition of attorneys general argue that the executive order violates the Refugee Act of 1980, interferes with state sovereignty, undermines family reunification efforts, and disrupts the states’ abilities to deliver essential resources that help refugees contribute to the communities that welcome them. The amicus brief is in support of the motion of the plaintiffs, three national refugee-resettlement organizations, for a preliminary injunction against the order.

“Minnesotans want everyone to live with the same dignity and respect that they want for themselves. This includes the many refugees we have resettled here, who have given back many times over to the state, communities, and neighbors that have welcomed them. I’m challenging the President’s order on behalf of the people of Minnesota because it is illegal and immoral,” Attorney General Ellison said.

The brief that Attorney General Ellison joined was filed on the same day that Governor Tim Walz announced that Minnesota will continue to accept refugees, while also stating that the State rejects the intent of the President’s order and reserves the right to challenge it.

Each year, thousands of refugees are admitted into the United States and welcomed into communities across the country where they can connect with services, resources, and members of their family or cultural community that help them not just adjust but thrive. Attorney General Ellison and the 12 other attorneys general argue that President Trump’s executive order threatens to erode the decades-old refugee relocation system established by the U.S. Congress, which provides for the effective resettlement of refugees and assists them in achieving economic self-sufficiency as quickly as possible.

Nowhere does the Refugee Act of 1980, which was amended in 1982 and 1986, grant the President the authority to give states or their local governments the ability to veto the initial placement of refugees within their jurisdictions. In fact, the federal requirement to seek additional consent from county authorities undermines state sovereignty and runs contrary to one of the express purposes of the Refugee Act: to give states a greater voice in making recommendations about refugee placement without giving them veto power over it. Moreover, the order’s requirement that resettlement agencies obtain the written consent from state and county authorities places an undue administrative burden them, which in turn would hinder the states’ abilities to deliver services to refugees.

Attorney General Ellison and the coalition also argue that the executive order undermines the Refugee Act’s family-reunification provisions. The executive order would prevent family reunification for certain refugees who have non-refugee family members already living in the United States unless local governments consent. This runs contrary to the Refugee Act. Under the executive order, a refugee could be prevented from resettling in a community where they already have a child or sibling. Failing to adequately take existing familial ties into account contravenes congressional intent and directly harms efforts to maximize cultural supports that help refugees and their communities succeed.

Minnesota has one of the most well developed ecosystems in the country for welcoming and successful settling refugees. Like all the states that are part of the brief, it also has established a statewide system for facilitating funding for refugee placement in the state, as well as for long-term services and programs to support refugees. According to the State Department, Minnesota has welcomed and resettled 8,124 refugees since 2014 and a total 43,208 refugees since 2001. The 18-year total is the 6th-highest among all states — followed only by California, Texas, New York, Florida, and Washington — and among the highest per capita. (Data is available at the links below.)

Refugee arrivals by state and nationality, 2001-19
Refugee arrivals by state and nationality, 2014-19

Refugees are an economic boon to Minnesota and all states. In 2015, refugee-owned businesses generated $4.6 billion in income nationally. A 2017 draft report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that refugees contributed $63 billion more in tax revenue than they received in public benefits over the preceding decade.

In filing the brief, Attorney General Ellison joins the attorneys general of California, Illinois, and Maryland, along with the attorneys general of Connecticut, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Washington.

A copy of the brief is available on the website of California Attorney General Xavier Becerra.