Wisconsin – a major battleground in the 2024 presidential election – is currently a battleground over a refugee resettlement controversy.
Wisconsin officials have sought to meet with officials from the Department of Homeland Security about the first group of Somali refugees to settle in the Eau Claire County area of the state. The issue has even garnered interest from members of Congress.
State legislators are set this week to advance a bill requiring greater transparency on resettlement decisions. Federal law already requires federal officials to “consult regularly (not less often than quarterly) with state and local governments” before settling the refugees to an area. The state legislation would specifically require consulting with “elected officials” accountable to the public – rather than just appointed officials – as well as a requirement for public comment.
State Rep. Karen Hurd, a Republican, introduced the bill, and noted the area is already stressed after the closure of two hospitals and strained school districts.
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“Wisconsin citizens are the most generous, giving, kind, and practical people. This is not about that. This is because we didn’t even know,” Hurd told Fox News Digital. “We are practical. We need to evaluate whether we can do this or not. We don’t care about the color of someone’s skin. This is about infrastructure.”
Hurd said she expects the Republican-controlled legislature will pass the bill but is uncertain about what Democratic Gov. Tony Evers will do when it lands on his desk.
The DHS is working with World Relief, a Christian nonprofit associated with the National Association of Evangelicals, to bring 75 Somalian refugees to the Eau Claire area in the Chippewa Valley by Sept. 30. Some residents, lawmakers and advocacy groups are concerned the federal family reunification policy could lead to a much larger influx of refugees.
Wisconsin’s neighboring Minnesota Somali refugee settlements ballooned into millions within two decades, noted Restoration of America, which first reported the Wisconsin issue. Minneapolis, located about 100 miles from Eau Claire, has the nation’s largest Somali population. The FBI reported in 2019 that dozens of military-aged men in the city joined terrorist organizations.
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“The refugee resettlement plan won’t end with 75 Somalis, but potentially thousands, as each refugee will later be permitted to import close and extended family members – think cousins and grandparents – to Wisconsin under federal family reunification policy,” Hayden Ludwig, director of policy research for Restoration of America, told Fox News Digital.
“In just a few years, locals could find their communities, schools, and emergency services swamped with refugees from failed countries, likely including Syria – though even World Relief officials won’t tell us from which,” Ludwig said.
Hurd said Eau Claire City Manager Stephanie Hirsch, an appointed official, made the deal with World Relief for the resettlement without consulting the elected Eau Claire County Board. Eau Claire County and the City of Eau Claire have separate governments. Hurd said the county, school districts and emergency services will shoulder the costs.
Hirsch told Wisconsin Public Radio she notified members of the Eau Claire City Council, and that “it wasn’t the kind of thing that required a formal process at all.”
World Relief Wisconsin did not immediately respond to an inquiry for this story. But it posted a “frequently asked questions” about the planned refugee resettlement on its website that says the 75 refugees includes 15-20 family units. The FAQ says DHS thoroughly vets all refugees, and further contends they are a long-term net economic benefit for communities.
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Under the question, “What countries will the refugees resettled to the Chippewa Valley be from?” the organization answers: “We do not know with certainty which countries the refugees resettled to the Chippewa Valley will be from, but the top two countries of origin for refugees resettled to Wisconsin last year were Burma and the Democratic Republic of Congo. More than 80% of refugees resettled to Wisconsin in Fiscal Year 2023 came from one of these two countries, and we anticipate receiving individuals and families from these two countries in the coming year.”
Two GOP members of Wisconsin’s congressional delegation, Reps. Tom Tiffany and Derrick Van Orden, also weighed in.
In an October letter to Eau Claire City Council President Emily Berge, Tiffany complained the community was “kept in the dark” about the matter.
Tiffany’s letter said Eau Claire and the Chippewa Valley taxpayers should have the chance to submit public comment about a “large number of refugees – potentially from Somalia, Syria and other unstable countries.”
“Even more frustrating, representatives of this NGO reportedly met with the city manager well in advance of this announcement – but the city manager did not share this information with local officials or the public,” Tiffany wrote. He later added, “Given the dangerous conditions in these countries, and the Biden administration’s alarming track record when it comes to vetting newcomers, it is inconceivable that the local community would be kept in the dark in this way. I hope you will investigate these troubling allegations and take appropriate action.”
Replying to Tiffany’s letter, Berge wrote “immigrants are a part of the Eau Claire story,” and accused Tiffany of not understanding the federal refugee law.
“World Relief has held a number of public meetings,” Berge’s letter says. “The Refugee Act requires U.S. agencies to consult and coordinate with state and local authorities and to financially support resettlement. This has happened and is ongoing in a transparent manner,” Berge said refugee resettlement is a federal, not local, responsibility.
“It is the responsibility of the U.S. government to safely and properly locate, integrate, and support immigrants in communities such as Eau Claire,” Berge wrote.
“As a member of Congress, Congressman Tiffany is a part of the U.S. government. We expect and rely on him to do that work. Communicating to the public in a way that demonstrates knowledge, embraces one’s own responsibilities, and links those actions to our shared values, furthers trust.” In November, Van Orden said he had conversations with Berge, World Relief, and the State Department about the vetting of the refugees.
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“To ensure the safety of the citizens of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and the nation, I have urged the Department of State to provide me with a detailed report of the vetting procedures they have conducted, including who these individuals are, documentation that the proper inquiries and investigations for refugee resettlement were thoroughly conducted, as well as the information that was available, collected, and considered on each individual,” Van Orden said in a statement.