Last month President Donald Trump’s administration issued an executive order asking that state and local governments consent, in writing, to refugee resettlement before it happens.
This afternoon North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum’s office issued a press release announcing that our state will continue to accept refugees.
“We are grateful for the administration’s consideration of states’ rights in determining policies and actions that impact what happens within our own borders,” Burgum said in a letter (see below) to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. “Our administration takes very seriously the duty to protect the security and prosperity of our residents. North Dakota has had success at integrating refugees who have become responsible citizens and productive members of the workforce. Therefore, with ongoing diligence, North Dakota consents to receive resettlement refugees, in conjunction with the continued assent and cooperation of local jurisdictions in our state.”
Resettlement has been a hot-button issue in North Dakota in the not-so-distant past. Which isn’t surprising. Our state has taken in more refugees per capita than just about any other state in the union according to this March 2019 report from the Department of Homeland Security:
Refugee resettlement is a net positive for North Dakota. The culture the people who come here bring with them can enrich us, and one of the most persistent obstacles to economic growth and diversification in our state being chronic labor shortages, we could certainly use the workers.
There have been problems with the way resettlement has worked in our state, though. It hasn’t always been easy for local officials – from school districts to social services personnel – to handle what are at times unpredictable influxes of refugees. Because the issue is such a political hot potato, efforts to discuss those real challenges often invite accusations of racism.
Fargo City Commissioner Dave Piepkorn was widely pilloried, called a bigot and worse, for asking after data about the costs of resettlement to local government. When a state lawmaker – former Rep. Chris Olson, a Republican from West Fargo – attempted to pass legislation facilitating data collection on refugee resettlement opponents insulted him in floor speeches.
What the Trump administration has done is give state and local governments some voice in resettlement. It gives locals a lever they can pull if problems come up. That’s a good thing.
It’s also good that Governor Burgum doesn’t see a need to pull that lever right now.