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Tribune Opinion: City of Willmar should continue accepting refugees

The city of Willmar and Kandiyohi County have long been receptive to immigrants and refugees since the Civil War. In recent decades, the city and the county have traditionally embraced the diverse refugees who have resettled or relocated into our community.

It is a tradition that should continue.

The Willmar City Council faces a decision soon on whether to send a letter of consent stating the city is willing to continue receiving refugees who are being resettled in the United States.

The City Council should go on record that the city of Willmar will continue being receptive and open to refugee resettlement in our fair city.

This action is needed in response to President Trump's Sept. 26 executive order that state, county and city governments must decide whether or not they will accept refugees. It is interesting that this executive order set a deadline of Dec. 25 — Christmas Day — for states, counties and cities to make such a determination.

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The value of refugees in today's Minnesota is important.

An aging population in west central Minnesota and across the state is a major cause of the state's worker shortage. In this second decade of the 21st century, more Minnesotans — 285,000 — will turn 65 than in the four previous decades combined, according to a Star Tribune report. As baby boomers continue retiring in record numbers, more than one in five Minnesota's will be 65 or older by 2030. That is only 10 years and a few days away.

All of Minnesota needs more workers. Refugees are one small part of the solution to this worker shortage.

Gov. Tim Walz and the Kandiyohi County Board have already said Minnesota and the county will remain open to refugee resettlement.

Kudos to Kandiyohi County commissioners Harlan Madsen, Roger Imdieke and Corky Berg for voting yes on the refugee resettlement acceptance question. That was a display of real leadership in doing the right thing in the spirit of America.

Last year, Kandiyohi County settled 10 new refugees into the county — six from Myanmar (formerly Burma) and four from East Africa. In 2017, there were seven. In 2017, there were 58 and in 2016 there were 24.

All of these refugees undergo a strict vetting process, including background checks and in-person interviews, before being assigned to a non-profit organization for resettlement.

Many of us are descendants of immigrants and refugees. Historically, refugees have fled for many reasons.

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In fact, Joseph and Mary were refugees fleeing King Herod's murderous actions when Jesus was born. The Irish fled the famine. The Germans and Italians fled war and economic troubles. The Swedes and Norwegians often fled religious repression in search of freedom to practice the religion of their choice. These reasons are not much different from the refugees of today.

Immigrants help provide diversity to our city and our county, which is a positive. They provide youth for our communities and our schools. They provide badly needed persons for our labor force. There are many things to learn about other people and their cultures. And there are many things we descendants of immigrants can teach our new immigrants.

The City Council will not fall for the nativist's message that refugees are too different, cost too much and provide nothing of value to this city. Nor should council members give much credence to those bigots who are intolerant of other religions, beliefs or opinions. This is especially true of those who believe the problem with downtown Willmar is that it is "too brown."

During this Christmas season, it is important to follow Christ's example of loving thy neighbor. Hopefully, the City Council will continue moving Willmar forward.

And the spirit of Christmas is love for all mankind.

This editorial is the opinion of the West Central Tribune's editorial board of publisher Steve Ammermann and editor Kelly Boldan.

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