Port: Burleigh County made the right decision

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Rob Port
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MINOT, N.D. — Let's start here: North Dakota is a wonderful place.

That was a subtext of the refugee resettlement debate in Burleigh County this last week, though one overlooked by most.

The county commissioners had before them the opportunity to exercise a veto over continued refugee resettlement.

They ultimately voted to continue resettlement , though in a compromise, they capped it at 25 people in the next year.

For context, note that 24 refugees have settled in Burleigh County in 2019.


The commission is also requiring an annual report detailing things like the costs of resettlement to the community.

More on that in a moment.

If there's a silver lining to this sometimes spiteful debate, it's hearing the stories of refugees already living in our communities.

People who say our state changed their lives.

There is so much negativity in public discourse today. People mock and deride North Dakota (we heard plenty of that from the more obnoxious elements of the pro-resettlement faction). They emphasize only the ugliest chapters of American history.

Yet our state, our country, is still a destination people from around the world struggle to reach.

President Ronald Reagan was fond of calling America the "shining city on a hill." A "beacon of hope" for the international community.

It may not be fashionable to talk that way today — in some circles, anyway — but it's nice to know it still carries some truth.


As for Burleigh County's decision, it was the right one, though I was surprised the commission instituted a cap.

Can they put conditions on resettlement?

That aspect of the decision may get challenged.

The other requirement Burleigh County put on resettlement, the reporting requirement, is more important.

It's such a good idea, Gov. Doug Burgum should consider making reporting a condition for resettlement statewide.

This debate got a lot uglier than it needed to. When critics have asked for information about the costs and challenges of resettlement in the past, the answer, from many resettlement proponents, has been accusations of bigotry.

It happened in Fargo when City Commissioner Dave Piepkorn led an effort to gather that information.

It happened in Bismarck, in the state Legislature, when former Rep. Chris Olson, a Republican from West Fargo, introduced legislation giving locals the same veto over resettlement the Trump administration has.


During the Burleigh County debate, local author Clay Jenkinson lectured the commission about what the rest of the country might think if resettlement was rejected.

As if North Dakotans care all that much about Californians looking down their noses at us.

Those reactions are deeply unhelpful.

In years past, refugees showed up in our communities, with little notice and little in the way of resources from the federal government.

If you questioned the status quo, however, you got accused of something nasty like xenophobia.

Like it or not, if we want resettlement to succeed, you need buy-in from the communities where it's happening.

Thanks to the Trump administration, these communities have a voice in the process.

Let's hope that leads us to a place where resettlement can happen with less rancor and more accountability.

Rob Port, founder of , a North Dakota political blog, is a Forum Communications commentator. Listen to his Plain Talk Podcast and follow him on Twitter at @RobPort.

Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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