Full house at Burleigh Commission meeting, Refugee Resettlement decision postponed

BISMARCK, N.D. - Burleigh County Commissioners have delayed a decision whether to continue allowing refugees in our area.

Lutheran Social Services had to request written consent for resettling refugees within the state this year, following an executive order by President Trump.

There are three sites in the state of North Dakota that currently have resettled refugees: Grand Forks County, Burleigh County, and Cass County.

The commission meeting was standing room only Monday evening in Burleigh County and had to be rescheduled.

Many who attended the meeting say there are a lot of unanswered questions about the refugee resettlement. Lutheran Social Services is making it their mission to answer those questions and concerns.

Dozens of people in attendance in search of clarification were sent home because there wasn't enough room at the meeting for everyone.

"It's a democratic process. It’s something that we should value and honor. People have questions and want them answered," said Shirley Dykshoorn, LSS VP Senior and Humanitarian Services:

Commissioners said during the meeting that it's been an unfair process and feel misinformed.

Commissioner Jim Peluso said on Monday evening he had only received one letter about the topic and the rest of the information he’s been forced to take off of social media.

The commission voiced at the meeting that they received a large amount of comment from constituents in the county being against having refugees resettled in the area.

"I'm not against the notion of helping my fellow men. But how? Who’s going to pay for it?" asked Burleigh County resident Carl White.

LSS representatives say they've been doing this in the state since the 40s and the program is funded by federal grants.

They say they have quarterly meetings with everyone involved in the refugee resettlement program including school districts.

There was also an interim study during the legislative session on the matter.

Dykshoorn said, "Commissioner's weren't part of that legislative study so I get it I understand why they feel they have not had as much information as they'd like."

Some in the room were for continuing to support refugees in the area and said they’ve been an asset and helpful in the community.

"Such a small number of refugees that come to Bismarck that if people don't go out of their way to meet refugees in our communities then they might not even know we have refugees," said Rev. Gretchen Deeg:

This year, LSS has resettled around 124 refugees across the state, that’s about the same from 2018. The median number in Bismarck annually is about 25. In Cass County, approximately 100 and in Grand Forks County about 5.

Under President Donald Trump the cap is 18,000 refugees nationally.

"What's the next president going to do? If he says oh, I want to take in one million people from so and so... does that mean that we get 10,000?! So I came to get some real answers and I really didn't get any," said White.

Dykshoorn says LSS is open to answering all questions and having the facts out.

She also says the written consent process for refugee resettlement will become an annual discussion.

Monday Cass County Commissioners agreed to allow refugees continue to resettle in Fargo. Grand Forks County has also consented.

Burleigh County Commission Chairman Brian Bitner says they'll have to reschedule the meeting in order to allow as many people who want to attend to be able to be present. Once that venue and date is scheduled we will let you know.

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