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On a close vote, the Burleigh County Commission OKs refugee resettlement plan

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The Burleigh County Commission has narrowly voted to approve the settlement of refugees in that county.

That means the county will not become the first in the nation to reject refugee resettlement.

Gov. Doug Burgum had already agreed to accept refugees in the state. And with the Governor’s endorsement, it fell to the county commission to accept refugee resettlement. Two North Dakota counties – Grand Forks and Cass – have already agreed to take refugees. Lutheran Social Services manages the resettlement program.

An overflow crowd, estimated at 200 or more, came to Horizon Middle School to hear the discussion – and  a number of those attending testified. 

Tresor Mugwaneza was born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He came to America at age 16, and is now in college, pursuing a degree, while working at a local restaurant.

“We are not in this country just to take your government money," Mugwaneza said. "In fact, we are here to be successful in life, just like anyone else here.”

Geraldine Ambe is a refugee from Cameroon.  She asked Commissioners to consier what refugees mean to the county.

“I’m going to stop here by challenging everybody," Ambe said. "Tonight when you leave here, go to Walmart, and see how many of them are stocking your shelves at Walmart while you sleep. Then you will know what we are talking about."

Opponents said they were concerned about the cost of bringing refugees to the area – and what impact it would have on local schools.

"Before we bring in more people,  if we’re spending money, taxpayer dollars, to bring these people in, can we spend the money to help the people who are already here first?" said Luke Lengenfelder of Bismarck.

When it came time to take a vote, the commission approved it 3 to 2. Commissioner Jerry Woodcox was a “yes” vote, with the stipulation that Burleigh County accept only up to 25 refugees in the next year.

”When you see the success of the refugees who have been here for 20 years, and it’s been a long term program that has done an excellent job," Woodcox said after the meeting. "And I was convinced that was what we were going to be doing.”

Commission chairman Brian Bitner voted no. He said he didn’t have enough information about the program, or about the refuees.

“I need to know what this costs, all together," Bitner said after the meeting. "It seems to me we kind of give a blank check as American citizens to refugee resettlement, and I’d like to know what it actually costs us.”

The decision has to be renewed every year.

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