Burleigh County Commission votes to allow refugees to resettle in the county

Local News

In a vote of 3 to 2 from the Burleigh County Commission, refugees will be allowed to resettle in Burleigh County.

During the meeting, a motion was also made to limit the number of refugees accepted in Burleigh County to 25 at most in 2020.

Burleigh County Commission includes Chair Brian Bitner, Vice Chair Jerry Woodcox, Commissioner Mark Armstrong, Commissioner Kathleen Jones and Commissioner Jim Peluso.

Here is how each voted:

Bitner — No

Woodcox — Yes

Armstrong — Yes

Jones — Yes

Peluso — No

The Dec. 9 meeting was a continuation of last Monday’s meeting, where more than 100 people showed and overflowed the commission’s normal meeting space. The commission delayed the first meeting out of fairness to everyone who wanted to speak.

Over 400 people were in attendance at the Dec. 9 meeting at Horizon Middle School to voice their opinions.

“Let’s help them become productive citizens. What is the strength of the United States, commissioners? It is our diversity!” said resident and migrant Klaus Lemkie.

Not everyone at the meeting agreed.

“Count the homeless people sitting on the benches, the bench right in front of city hall, mostly native Americans, a couple of veterans. Why aren’t we taking care of them? They’re here already…they’re here now,” said resident
Mike Karleson.

As the hours ticked by, tempers started to grow short between the commission and the overflow crowd.

“It should be embarrassing to every one of us, that this thing has degenerated into some sort of name-calling and racism thing, or anything else like that. We’re better than that folks. This community does not need that divisive bull****, OK?” said Bitner.

Some of the most passionate testimony came from refugees like Masa Harris and Ricardo Pierre-Louis.

“We’re not coming to North Dakota to rob anybody, hell, we have been robbed of our childhood. We’ve been robbed of a lot of things. We have starved, we have seen wars, we have suffered, we have been hungry. So coming to North Dakota is a privilege, and I tell you tonight, don’t be selfish, open your doors to us because we have seen a lot. We have been through a lot and we’re only coming to North Dakota because we want to survive,” said Refugee Harris.

“We work. We do the work as refugees to move this country and what makes America great is the diversity we have. People talk about taking care of their own. In North Dakota today we have the highest rate of young people, those refugees make our kids here well-rounded,” said Bismarck resident and Haitian refugee Pierre-Louis.

Commissioner Woodcox voted in favor of resettlement and told KX News it has been a busy couple of weeks.

“I think I had 600 e-mails in the last three or four days and initially it was 90-10 against having the refugee program. The last two days it swung completely around to 70-30 in favor of having resettlement. It was not an easy decision but one we had to make and I’m glad it’s done and we can move forward with it,” said Woodcox.

KX News spoke with one refugee who told us Burleigh County avoided a major black eye Monday night.

“It showed that we have a side of unity, togetherness. It doesn’t matter of your background, your religion or who you are, we are coming together as a community,” said Nyamal Dei, a South Sudan refugee.

Burleigh County is the final county in North Dakota allowing consent for refugees because Cass County and Grand Forks County approved consent earlier this month.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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