BISMARCK — People came from all over Monday evening in the hopes of making their voice heard to the Burleigh County Commission.
Bismarck Mayor Steve Bakken was in attendance.
With a heavy police presence, you could feel the tension in the air as most of the crowd was there to convince the commission to vote against giving consent to Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota for a refugee settlement.
The consent is necessary after President Donald Trump signed an executive order in September that requires state and local governments to give consent to whether they will accept refugees or not.
Some people KX News spoke with did not want that to happen.
“124 people statewide does not have an impact, however, if the 124 do a chain migration that could easily be 1,200. And in a state of 750,000 people, 1,200 is a lot,” said local resident Phillip Cohen, who’s against allowing the consent.
The problem was so many people turned up to the meeting, they couldn’t fit everyone inside, so in the interest of fairness, the commission decided to table the matter until a larger venue could be secured in the near future.
Brian Bitner is the chair of the commission and said he also has reservations about granting the consent for financial reasons.
“I haven’t seen anything in this package, anywhere, that tells me that we’re consenting to five or 50 or 500 or anything. So North Dakota is already the highest per capita state for refugee resettlement in terms of number of citizens, so in the absence of any sort of number, there’s no way we could know the cost to the state or the county, and I simply can’t support that,” said Bitner.
Opponents of the news said an increase in refugees could lead to a drain on government services and an increase in crime, something the pro-refugee crowd overwhelmingly denied.
But not everyone in attendance was anti-refugee.
Leah Hargrove is the Executive Director of Bismarck Global Neighbors, and they make sure North Dakota’s immigrant families are treated fairly and with respect, she said.
“A lot of times I hear people saying that refugees are coming here to infiltrate our systems, to overthrow our government, to corrupt Christianity. There’s a fear that refugee resettlement means that LSS is putting Islamic extremists in our community and it’s just not true and it’s never been true in Bismarck,” said Hargrove.
But with no decision Monday, the clock is ticking, because agencies must submit their written consent by Jan. 21 or lose federal funds that could be used to reunite families and place refugees in places with jobs, and other supportive means.
It’s important to note that Lutheran Services told us that the numbers of Refugees in North Dakota continue to drop — only 174 came to the state between October of 2017 and September 2018, a year earlier that number was 421.
And of those numbers, less than two dozen came to Bismarck.
But, we’ll have to wait to see what the commission decides to do in a few weeks.
Dozens of people also turned out for the resettlement vote in Fargo as well.
However, the Cass County Commission did cast their votes and decided, unanimously, to let Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota continue its refugee resettlement program in the county, which essentially involves the cities of Fargo and West Fargo.
The number of immigrants coming to Cass County has dropped from about 400 to 100 in the last few years.