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Burleigh County Commssion wrestling with refugee resettlement issue

Dave Thompson
Prairie Public

The Burleigh County Commission is being asked to give its okay to resettle refugees in the area.

But because of an overflow crowd at Monday night’s meeting, the Commission delayed any decision until a larger venue could be found. Several people were in a separate room, but had no access to audio or video.

Lutheran Social Services is the agency that handles refugee resettlement. LSS Vice President Shirley Dykshoorn said the reason the county commission was approached is because of a new Trump Administration policy.

"When resettlement occurs, the state has to provide consent to allow resettlement, and that the county unit of government has to provide consent," Dykshoorn said in an interview. "We were asking for consent to basically continue the work that we've been doing for years."

Gov. Doug Burgum has given his consent. The Cass and Grand Forks County Commissions have also done so.

Dykshoorn said 124 refugees were settled in North Dakota in the last federal fiscal year. She said 24 came to Bismarck – 23 of them from the Congo, and one from Ukraine. And she said that number would likely be a bit lower over the next year.

Dykshoorn was the only one to speak. County Commission Chairman Brian Bittner then stopped the meeting, to say a bigger space needed to be found – and a special meeting called – to deal with the matter.

After the meeting, Bittner said he has concerns.

"This request for consent has no strings attached," Bittner told reporters. "I haven't seen anything in this package that tells me we're consenting to 5, or 50, or 500 or anything."

Bittner said North Dakota is already the highest per capita state for refugee resettlement.

"In the absence of any sort of number, there is no way we can know the cost to either the state or the county," Bittner said. "I simply can't support that."

The Commission faces a January 21st deadline to either give its consent in writing – or lose federal funding for the refugee resettlement program.

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