The resettlement of foreign refugees in North Dakota communities has been creating angst in those communities for years now. Some small part of that angst is absolutely motivated by racism and xenophobia, but a larger portion I think represents valid concerns. Locals are worried that the refugees may have an impact on crime, or a disproportionate impact on public assistance programs.
In other words, some of the same things local have worried about when it comes to all the people who moved to North Dakota because of the state’s oil boom.
[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]If it’s right and proper that we put scrutiny on the social impacts of the oil boom, is it not also right and proper that we put scrutiny on the social impacts of refugee resettlement?[/mks_pullquote]
In the Grand Forks Herald today we get this headline: “Minot shootings show the ‘bad part’ of oil boom-related growth.” It’s an interesting story, and a worthy line of inquiry for journalists. We should be cognizant of the impact the oil boom has had on our communities in terms of crime, the use of public resources, etc., etc.
But why then is it so unreasonable to ask for the same sort of inquiry into the impact of refugee settlement on communities like Fargo and West Fargo?
Recently I suggested that the State of North Dakota should look at requiring reports from Lutheran Social Services, which handles refugee resettlement for the federal government in North Dakota, on issues like crime and impacts to public programs. I was sort of taken aback at the hostility I got from some quarters for even making the suggestion.
“What you say about LSS is complete BS,” one person who works in the Fargo-area media told me in an email.
“The charge that the decades-long influx of refugees into Fargo has been a burden on taxpayers doesn’t stand up to honest scrutiny,” the always intemperate Fargo Forum editorial board claimed in an editorial recently. “In fact, it’s a myth,” the paper wrote going on to claim that people supporting that alleged myth are racists.
But I don’t understand the double standard. If it’s right and proper that we put scrutiny on the social impacts of the oil boom, is it not also right and proper that we put scrutiny on the social impacts of refugee resettlement? How do we know that it’s a myth that refugees present no burden to taxpayers? As far as I know, we don’t have the data to make any statement one way or another.
There is some liberal media bias here at play, I think. The oil industry is, well, the oil industry. Reporters tend to want to find the negative in just about anything the industry does. But refugee resettlement occupies a much different political space.
If the refugees aren’t committing a disproportionate amount of crime, then great! That might help ease some doubts about the programs which bring them to our communities. But if they are elevating crime levels, then the public deserves to know that, and we should be striving to find ways to fix that problem.