Maybe Wanting to Understand the Social Impacts of Refugee Resettlement Isn’t Bigotry


Fargo City Commissioner Dave Piepkorn asks for an accounting of what the refugee resettlement in the Fargo area is costing during the Commission meeting Monday, Oct. 10, 2016. Dave Wallis / The Forum

My colleague Mike McFeely is urging his fellow liberals to call off an effort to recall right-of-center Fargo city commissioner David Piepkorn over his push for information about refugee resettlement in that community.

The endeavor will not be successful, McFeely warns:

Piepkorn is no dummy, and he probably has a campaign organization already in place with a solid chunk of money on hand. He’s backed by experienced Republican politicos. There’s a good probability people from around the state, maybe the country, are sending him checks with notes saying something like, “Keep fightin’ them Muslims, Dave! You’re making America Great Again!” It matters not that such people might be abhorrent. Their money spends.

An interesting scenario, I guess, though it all sounds a bit conspiratorial.

I’m pretty sure there’s a simpler explanation.

It may just be that a majority of voters in Fargo don’t see Piepkorn’s push for information as unreasonable or racist.

That McFeely seems to be tacitly describing this voting majority as “abhorrent” perhaps gives us a window into why the left can’t win many elections in North Dakota.

But I digress.

The left, both here in North Dakota and nationally, take it as an article of faith that any questioning of the efficacy of resettlement policy is basically like signing up for the Ku Klux Klan. Piepkorn, specifically, has been the target of much abuse.

What has he done to earn it? He wants to understand the costs of resettlement, and he hasn’t been willing to accept the superficial and at times baseless contentions from various public servants and organization leaders that resettlement has little cost.

Piepkorn has, at times, not handled this well. He’s made claims, for instance, about the head of Lutheran Social Services pertaining to things like her pay which simply haven’t been true. To the extent he should be held accountable for anything, it’s that.

But to recall him for asking tough questions? It’s unreasonable. Counterproductive.

It shouldn’t go ignored that, as Piepkorn has invited the scorn of Fargo-area progressives, in Bismarck a proposed legislative study into refugee resettlement has met with furious backlash from doctrinaire Democrats such as Rep. Mary Schneider (D-Fargo). “It was conceived in ignorance and fear, and born in prejudice and suspicion,” a visibly angry Schneider said of the study on the House floor earlier this session (video).

That reaction is over the top. In fact, as Schneider’s fellow Democrat Rep. Kathy Hogan (D-Fargo) pointed out following the former’s diatribe, our state has studied refugee resettlement before.

The result of that study? More funding for English language classes to help ease the transition of refugees into our communities.

Our friends on the left, I’m afraid, cast efforts to understand the social and policy implications of refugee resettlement as bigotry for the same reason they like to claim that Republicans hate women.

It’s just rank partisan politics.

Serious matters of public policy deserve something better.

I’ll close with another example in the region of overreaction to someone questioning refugee resettlement. Back in October of 2015 a teacher in East Grand Forks was suspended after he sent out an email expressing concerns over the attendance of Somali students at ESL (English as a Second Language) classes.

The teacher, Bryan Perkins, was expressing a reasonable concern. But because the concern was directed in large part at refugee students he was punished.

He was ultimately reinstated but the episode is just another example – along with the heated response to the refugee study in the Legislature and Piepkorn’s questions in Fargo – of overreaction to reasonable policy concerns.