South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem has attracted a lot of attention for a tweet she fired off last week declaring that this state would not be accepting any illegal immigrants from the southern border, and finished it off by telling refugees looking for asylum to “call me when you’re American.”

This ignited heavy criticism, and deservedly so.

But let’s look at some of the positive aspects of this (for lack of a better word) incident.

For starters, it confirms for us what the agenda is for Noem. Her words were not statesmanlike. Rather, they feel politically calculated to rev up a Republican base that still aligns wholeheartedly with former President Donald Trump. The governor is one of many GOP politicians with loftier aspirations trying to use such bravado to tap into that energy.

Her tweet last week also conveniently reveals a political U-turn. A Dec. 19, 2019, letter she sent to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said she was willing to accept illegal immigrants under an executive order from Trump. “For the communities that want to welcome these refugees, I support giving them that opportunity,” she said then. Now, she writes in her latest weekly column (which is on this page today), “When President Biden started asking states to take some of these illegal immigrants and house them, I told him ‘No way’ before he asked South Dakota. Those illegal immigrants can call us when they’re an American. I wanted to make sure he got that message loud and clear.” She joins the Republican governors in both Nebraska and Wyoming in refusing to house illegal immigrants, although the latter two didn’t draw the “call me when you’re American” line.

On a related note, the tweet (and her column) also give us a clear idea of what she believes the base she is appealing to looks like and how it thinks. You can draw your own conclusions on that.

The governor also shows a lot of courage with that tweet.

It takes a certain amount of guts, after all, for the governor of a state with nine Native American reservations — filled with people whose ancestors were here before white settlers ever dreamed of coming to these plains — to tell outsiders to come back “when (they) are American.” (However, you COULD argue that many white families here have been Americans a lot longer than those indigenous people, since Native Americans weren’t granted U.S. citizenship until 1924.) She’s unafraid to draw distinctions on which immigrants she deems are acceptable and which are not.  

The tweet also offers a bold revision of America’s soul, since this is a nation that has been built by immigrants seeking new homes in this country. She appears eager to embrace a different blueprint.

She is also showing fortitude to take this stand despite what it could mean to South Dakota’s financial picture.

Migrant/foreign workers have become an important component to the state’s economy. Migrant workers are vital to the agricultural economy here and across the country. Also, the American Immigration Council reported last year that 16% of those working in South Dakota’s manufacturing sector were immigrants, as were 11% of workers in healthcare support occupations. According to the Migration Policy Institute a year ago, 58% of all meatpacking jobs in the state were filled by immigrants.

These workers are becoming an essential facet of our economy. In 2018, there were more than 35,000 immigrant workers — or about 4% of the population — in South Dakota, about two-thirds of whom were not naturalized citizens.

Locally, Yankton is relying increasingly on such laborers, and these are not people “stealing” jobs from Americans. They are filling jobs that would otherwise not be filled, empty slots that could cost companies a lot of money and, consequently, local tax bases some serious revenue.

Noem appears unafraid to rattle those economic pillars.

Beyond these things, there is little good that can spring from Noem’s Twitter outburst, at least for this state, which she embarrassed in the process. However, it probably serves her own purposes well enough, getting her national exposure and forcing everyone from human rights activists to editorial writers to talk about it.

And that’s what politics is all about, unfortunately.


(8) comments


Simply stated, the tweet revealed what a disgusting puke the governor is.


Thank you, Kelly.

Red Cloud

Have her call me when she’s an American.

Earth Man

Kelly, you’re the one with real “guts”. Guts to to shed light on the governor’s selfish political ambitions. It is so sad for our state that she, like her mentor Donald Trump, seeks only to pander to her political base. We long for a governor that strives to serve all of its citizens.


Trumpsters who found Sarah Palin a bit too intellectual for their tastes, now have a new paradigm of Conservative Womanhood in our own Governor Noem!


As someone who was born, raised and educated in South Dakota, I was always proud of my home state even though I haven't lived there since college. I am embarrassed by the negative attention that has been drawn to the place my entire family still calls home. When we know better, we do better. Come on Kristi, you have to know that young women and girls are looking up to you. Please be a better role model for them and our state. Your white privilege is on full display right now. If you don't know what that means, please educate yourself and be better.

Jolly Roger

Not only does Kelly have guts, but he also writes well with a fully-reasoned and thoroughly informed perspective.

However, don’t be surprised when the Press & Dakotan’s publisher comes out from his corner office and cans Mr. Hertz for not towing the Trumpster line that South Dakotans find so beguiling.

Mr. T

Yes. I remember Mr. Publisher coming forth to complain about how it must look to the world that we had to put up a fence to protect our Capitol. And he demanded it be taken down.

But he never decried the Big Lie that Trump still tells.

And this lie was the motivation for the insurrection. And this lie is why a majority of Republicans still believe the election was stolen and we’re being governed by an illegitimate President.

And it’s why we haven’t seen the last of right wing violence or bogus voter suppression laws.

The Press & Dakotan should declare that the election was free and fair. There’s plenty of evidence. All it takes is honesty. But don’t expect it anytime soon. Mr. publisher won’t want to lose his Trumpster subscribers.

For now we just have to be thankful that he hasn’t yet sacked Mr. Hertz.

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