North Dakota county to decide on refugee resettlement

A North Dakota county has voted in favor of allowing individuals to resettle in Burleigh County under provisions set out by an executive order President Donald Trump signed in September.

Under the executive order, states and localities need to provide consent in writing in order to have refugees resettled in their communities. In a 3-2 vote, the county board of commissioners approved a request made by a Lutheran group to allow about 25 refugees to settle in the county of about 95,000 people that includes the state capital of Bismarck.

Commissioner Kathleen Jones, who voted in favor of allowing the refugees to resettle, said she was undecided going into Monday night’s vote and weighed residents’ desires in making her decision.

“I spent all day yesterday tallying up all the emails and a few texts all the way to November 30 and saw that two-thirds were in favor and one-third was against. And so I decided to listen to the people,” Jones told CNN Tuesday, adding that she was worried about the costs the new refugees would have on taxpayers. “They weren’t concerned about the questions I had in my head. So if that’s what the people wanted, that’s what the people elected me to give them.”

The letter authorizing the resettlement needs to be formalized by the board’s chairman, Brian Bitner, who voted against the request. He said he is considering whether to have his successor, Jerry Woodcox, sign the letter next month when he takes over, as Woodcox voted to allow the resettlement.

The issue was posed to the county board last week by the Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota, which provides a broad range of support services to families, homeless individuals and youth as well as helping resettle refugees. Shirley Dykshoorn, the organization’s vice president of senior and humanitarian services, said North Dakota received more than 100 refugees last year.

The board of commissioners was considering the request for the second time after a previous meeting last Monday was cut short due to an unusually high amount of remote users crashing the live stream of their meeting.

“North Dakota is a refugee state,” Woodcox told CNN Monday. “It has been a main refugee state, and I don’t think this will change anything.”

In announcing the refugee resettlement consent policy in September, the Trump administration announced that only 18,000 refugees would be allowed to settle in the United States in fiscal year 2020, an historic low and down from the 30,000 allowed in 2019.

Resettling refugees in states has long been a sensitive issue. In 2015, at the height of the Syrian refugee crisis, more than half of the nation’s governors said they opposed letting Syrian refugees settle into their states.

This story has been updated with additional developments Tuesday.