Commissioners for Burleigh County, North Dakota, will vote Monday on whether to accept or refuse new refugees being re-settled there, potentially becoming the first jurisdiction in the U.S. to do so. The vote is necessary following a Lutheran Social Services request for a refugee re-settlement and an executive order by President Trump in September requiring local consent.
A vote that was scheduled last week on the matter was postponed after an overflow crowd of 100 was unable to fit into the normal meeting room. Today’s meeting will take place in a middle school cafeteria to handle the number expected to show up again, regarding what County Chairman Brian Bitner calls “the most intense” issue he has seen in the 10 years he has served on the commission.
In September, President Trump issued an executive order (EO) stipulating that new refugees would only be resettled within jurisdictions where state and local governments consent to accepting them. The EO only pertains to their initial resettlement, as once they have been admitted to the U.S., refugees are free to move about wherever they please.
The president’s EO came after many locales were previously caught off-guard when they were suddenly inundated by large numbers of unexpected refugees.
Many governors and counties around the country have since declared they would continue to admit refugees. But politicians in the conservative Burleigh County, with a population of 100,000, found the issue an important one to consider.
Republican State Rep. Rick Becker, has been a leader in criticizing the possibility of taking in groups of refugees as a drain on social service programs, schools, and law enforcement. In interviews, he has said that it’s a good thing for local governments to assess whether they have the needed resources to adequately serve the people coming in.
“Are we going to be spread too thin or do we have an abundance of resources when it comes to schools and teachers and English as a second language,” Becker said in an interview with KX4, giving one example.
Becker, a plastic surgeon and former gubernatorial candidate, represents the city of Bismarck which is in Burleigh County. According to the Daily Mail, he said, “This isn’t about skin color.
“In the past, nobody had any say whatsoever,” Becker continued. “Now we have something that should have been in place decades ago. Now, if they want to accept them, they can, and if they don’t want to they shouldn’t.”
Watch a portion of a KX4 interview with State Rep. Becker …
Video by KX4
Commission Chairman Bitner said that he would vote against the proposal for accepting additional refugees. “The overwhelming public opinion is so clear to me, that I think if you vote for it, you’re not going to be reelected if you choose to run again,” he said.
Bismarck Mayor Steve Bakken has indicated that, although he has no say in the vote, he sides with those opposing new refugee re-settlements. “Right now it’s a blank check and that equates into a lot of questions,” Bakken said, expressing his concern about the costs of taking in more groups that require assistance. “We have burgeoning school enrollment, veterans’ needs, homeless needs, and Native American needs. This isn’t about heartstrings, this is about purse strings,” he said.
Republican Gov. Doug Burgum issued a statement last month saying that North Dakota would continue accepting refugees wherever local jurisdictions agreed. His spokesman said Burgum views the issue as a local decision.
Soon after the governor’s statement was made, Cass and Grand Forks counties decided to continue taking in refugees.
Mayor Tim Mahoney, of Fargo which is in Cass County, said that refugees are needed to boost the city’s economy. He stated that 90 percent of refugees have been fully employed within three months after resettling in his city.
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