Burleigh County refugee meeting reset

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BISMARCK, N.D. - Burleigh County Commissioners are deciding whether to provide written consent to Lutheran Social Services to continue to allow resettlement of refugees in the county.

An issue that garnered so many attendees at the last public hearing another one had to be scheduled.

This was the scene Monday when an overflow crowd showed up for the refugee discussion at the Burleigh County Commission and the public meeting had to be postponed.

"If we were in a position to take on X number of refugees. We can't say, 'ok, we've taken on what we can handle,' That number could continue to grow. So there's a lot of vaguety. There's a lot of unanswered questions, and I'm concerned about the unintended consequences," said Steve Bakken, Bismarck.

North Dakota's refugee resettlement agency is Lutheran Social Services who has been doing this in North Dakota's major cities for decades. This year they have to ask for permission.

According to LSS a majority of North Dakota's refugees in that time have come from Iraq, Somalia, or Bhutan.

Last year the majority resettled from the Congo.

"We just have to remember that we've been a melting pot for years and this is a very small number of people that we're talking about," said Shirley Dykshoorn, Lutheran Social Services.

North Dakota was thirty-eighth in the country last year for resettlement with one hundred twenty seven refugees, about twenty five of those in Bismarck. LSS says those people's job skills range from brick layers to architects and typically find jobs within three months.

"A very limited amount of refugee cash assistance is provided by the federal government in the early stages, and then they find the employment, and we have staff that help them with that. We have employers that are calling wanting people to help fill jobs," said Dykshoorn.

Dykshoorn says they have to sign up for selective services, and pay taxes. They can apply for snap and other assistance programs if their income is eligible.

"We're beholden to the stakeholders in the community, those are the taxpayers. It's their dollars that go into this community. Anything that taxes those dollars or that weighs upon or puts a burden on the local tax payers, that's what we have to do as elected official is sit down and see why that is taking place and how we can mitigate the burden on the taxpayer," said Bakken.

Last year 30,000 refugees were resettled in the United States. This year the president has limited it to 18,000. Future presidents can change that number. Permission will have to be granted every year going forward.

The county hearing is on Monday at Horizon middle school's cafetorium at 6 p.m.