FARGO – Lutheran Social Services on Wednesday said it would continue helping refugees resettle here, rejecting the demand of an online petition, started this week, which calls for the resettlements to stop.

The Change.org petition, which had more than 450 signatures by Wednesday evening, says the resettlements should cease unless authorized by a vote of the residents of Cass County.

The CEO of Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota, Jessica Thomasson, said in an interview that her organization had no plans to stop helping refugees find a new home.

"They have no country, they have no home, and they're looking for a place to build their life," said Thomasson.

The organization works with the federal government to resettle people who seek to flee countries where they face persecution.

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She declined to say if she believed the petitioners were motivated by racism or bigotry, saying instead that "these are really emotional and often very personal conversations for people. They have very strong beliefs and strong opinions."

LSS said last week it expects to resettle more than 100 additional refugees in Fargo-Moorhead by October. It expects to resettle a total of about 400 new Americans in Fargo-Moorhead this year. It typically resettles 500 people statewide each year, and this year should be no different, according to Thomasson.

The petition does not explain why the placement of refugees in Fargo should end. But some signers wrote that too many resources are being spent on refugees rather than on people who already live here.

She rejected the claim that refugees are a burden on the community, saying that moving to the U.S. is "an opportunity they take very seriously."

"The people we work with are employed very quickly, they work very hard," Thomasson said.

In fact, the resettlement of refugees benefits the local economy, which is plagued by a workforce shortage, said Lisa Gulland-Nelson of the Greater Fargo Moorhead Economic Development Corp.

She said it was good to "bring in refugees who are willing to work, supporting them and connecting them with the resources that they need so that they can integrate into the community and really get jobs."

Plus, she said, refugees bring diversity that enhances the community.

Thomasson, in a visit with the Forum Editorial Board on Wednesday, said the questions about refugee resettlement were not new, noting that LSS has been resettling refugees since 1946.