St. Cloud mayor says NY Times article doesn't reflect the community

June 21, 2019 07:32 PM

As more Somali refugees settle in St. Cloud, a New York Times article published on Thursday, reports anti-immigration activists are beginning to push harder against a resettlement program that has brought many, mostly Muslim, refugees to the area.

The article says the influx of Somalis has caused the kinds of population and cultural changes President Trump and right-wing conservatives have warned about for years, stoking people's fears.


According to the Department of Human Services, most of the 423 refugees who came to Minnesota since January were from Burma. The second highest number of refugees have come from the Democratic Republic of Congo with 101 people.

The Times piece states many people in the city are divided over the resettlement, with some saying they welcome the migrants, but others are talking about theories popular in far-right circles like "white replacement," and their concern that Muslim residents are planning a coup to institute Shariah Law.

Over the last 30 years, St. Cloud has increased in population by 33%, with the share of non-white residents growing from 2% to 18%, the article notes.

Dave Kleis, who has been mayor for 13-and-a-half-years, told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS he disagrees with the article.

“I don’t believe it’s reflective of the community,” said Mayor Kleis. “That’s an external opinion of the community that I don’t see.”

He said refugees and immigrants are an important part of the community as entrepreneurs, authors and city employees.

“There’s a lot of individuals doing tremendous things in this community,” said Kleis. “There are a lot of collaborations taking place, a lot of great stories.”

Kleis said he also disagrees with the views shared by Concerned Community Citizens.

The beginning of the article focuses on the organization’s member John Palmer, who meets with Concerned Community Citizens every week. The New York Times reports that at a meeting, Palmer said he viewed Muslim refugees, “as innately less intelligent than the “typical” American citizen, as well as a threat.”

“The things that were said, I disagree with vehemently and are not reflective of the community,” said Kleis. “I vehemently oppose any individual, or individuals, or groups […] that don't have that respect for every human being.”

We talked to Palmer over the phone. He said he is also disappointed by the article.

“Words like ambush, hatchet job come to mind,” said Palmer. “He implies that I am a white nationalist, that I'm a racist, that I'm a xenophobe. These are the words used by the radical left.”

He didn’t deny the beliefs outlined in the article but said his words were taken out of context. Palmer told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS he wants the resettlement program to end because there’s a lack of resources to handle it.

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS asked Palmer what he’s doing to reach out to the Muslim community.

“What do I do? Anything I do is open to the public,” he said. “I could reverse that question and ask what do they do?”

For Haji Yussuf, the article doesn’t tell the whole story of the community. He moved from St. Cloud this week, after living there for more than a decade.

“This is a problem that's been ongoing for a long time and this community has been talking about it,” he said.  “There are a few voices in the community that are trying to divide us but the majority of the people are on the side of doing what is right and welcoming.”

Mayor Kleis reiterated that all refugees are welcome in St. Cloud.

“Our goal is to make sure we treat everyone and give everyone the same respect and opportunity,” said Kleis. “My perspective is to continue to build on those positive stories and focus on all of the positive things that are happening.”

Last year, the number of Somali refugees coming to Minnesota hit a five-year low with just 48 resettling here. Minnesota has the highest number of refugees per capita of any state, according to the US Census and Refugee Support Agencies.

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Callan Gray

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