Why We Need Transparency: North Dakota Leads The Nation In Per-Capita Refugee Resettlement


“We’re reaching out and trying to help our neighbors,” Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney said in response to news that North Dakota leads the nation when it comes to per-capita refugee resettlement. “We have jobs, we have needs, and we’re trying to grow as a state.”

I largely agree with Mahoney. An influx of immigrants into our communities is a generally positive thing, especially when one thing North Dakota definitely needs is workers. Oil prices may be down, but North Dakota still has tens of thousands of job openings to fill.

The thing is, this news isn’t going to placate concerns that the refugees coming into North Dakota communities commit disproportionate amounts of crime and represent a burden on the state’s social programs. For what it’s worth, the chief at Lutheran Social Services (which oversees the refugee resettlement program here in North Dakota) disputes these claims:

Jessica Thomasson, CEO of Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota, the state’s only resettlement agency, disputes the notion that refugees are a burden on taxpayers, saying the new arrivals quickly get jobs and are productive members of the community.

If that’s true – and maybe it is, I don’t know – then show us the data. If the refugees are coming to North Dakota communities and quickly becoming gainfully employed and productive members of them, then that’s wonderful! A truly win-win situation.

But skepticism in the public persists, and the reason for that is the staunch unwillingness by Lutheran Social Services and its supporters to put some facts out about how these refugees behave once they reach North Dakota. In fact, it seems LSS defenders would rather call skeptics xenophobes and racists than have a real discussion about their concerns.

That’s hugely unfortunate, and will go a long way toward making the transition of refugees into North Dakota harder.

Rep. Kevin Cramer is backing federal legislation to give Congress more control over refugee resettlement. Here in North Dakota, lawmakers should back policies to require that the state and communities where resettlement is happening get regular reports about the use of public assistance programs by refugees as well as their involvement, if any, in crimes.

Critics of refugee resettlement say refugees are a burden on their communities. Supporters of the resettlement say that’s wrong. We can’t tell which side is right until we have some data. If LSS continues to resist making good on the data, we need to seriously consider whether or not they’re fit to be involved with resettlement.

Meanwhile, it turns out Minnesota has become the largest source for ISIS recruiting in America, and the demographic the extremist recruiters are pulling from is Somali refugees. One needn’t be a racist or a xenophobe to see that as a very real concern.