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Refugee Resettlement Is a Hot Topic in the Heartland

Even more than the residents of urban epicenters like Los Angeles or New York, Americans in the Heartland are interested in refugee resettlement, as shown by recent events in places like Fargo, North Dakota, and Twin Falls, Idaho.

Refugee resettlement rates are the subject of conversation and conflict in America’s Heartland. A recent city commission meeting in Fargo showcased two different views of the refugee resettlement issue, and is representative of a wider pattern of keen public interest in the issue of refugee resettlement, something the mainstream media are largely ignoring.

Refugee Resettlement in Fargo, N.D.

The reason people care about refugee resettlement in Fargo has to do largely with how many are arriving. North Dakota currently takes in more refugees per capita than any other state: “Over roughly the past two years, no state has taken in more refugees per capita than North Dakota, a distinction the mayor of the state’s largest city said should inspire pride.”

Although North Dakota has not received the largest number of refugees total, in the fiscal year 2014 through this August, it has taken in almost three times as many per capita (135 per 100,000) as states like Texas (45 per 100,000), which during that period took a total of 13,000.

Population-light states like North Dakota form the core of the list of the states that take in the most refugees per capita:

Of the five states that accept the most refugees per capita, three are low-population states with less than 1 million residents, according to 2014 census figures: North Dakota, South Dakota and Vermont. The other two states in the top five are Nebraska and Idaho.

Minnesota took in the eighth-most refugees per capita in the recent two-year period — 77 per 100,000 residents.

This influx of refugees into North Dakota is being met with demands for caution and prudence by members of the public and politicians:

A Change.org petition from August calling on a moratorium on resettlements in Fargo has more than 3,000 signatures, and the petition creator, Damon Ouradnik, says he has been in contact with the offices of Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., and Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D.

In response to President Obama’s plan to allow more refugees into the country in the next two years, Cramer announced this week he was co-sponsoring legislation that would give Congress, rather than the president, control over how many refugees enter the U.S.

Cramer said “state and local governments should be concerned” about the financial impact of increasing the number of refugees from 70,000 to 100,000 in the next two years.

“It will be taxpayers footing the bill for these refugees,” he said in the statement. Cramer’s office did not make him available for questions on Friday.

Also alarming to American citizens in these states is the transmission of tuberculosis brought by refugees from other countries that have high rates of infection.

From a previous article:

1,710 refugees were resettled in Cass County, North Dakota, by LSSND between 2011 and 2015, more than 69 percent of the 2,459 refugees the agency resettled in the state of North Dakota and nearby Clay County, Minnesota, (which received a total of 77 refugees) during that five year period, according to LSSND.

Fifty-nine percent of the refugees resettled in North Dakota and neighboring Clay County, Minnesota, by LSSND during these five years, or 1,452 out of 2,454, came from Bhutan, a country that has high rates of active TB and latent TB infection (LTBI).

Thirteen percent of the refugees resettled in North Dakota and neighboring Clay County, Minnesota, by LSSND during these five years, or 316 out of 2,454, came from Somalia, another country that has high rates of active TB and LTBI.

“Our findings suggest that newly arrived refugees with LTBI have a considerable burden of clinical risk factors that increase their risk for reactivation of TB, which may contribute to the increased proportion of active TB among foreign-born populations in the United States if not prioritized for LTBI treatment. Efforts to ensure adequate LTBI treatment among high-risk refugees such as those documented in this study should be a public health priority.”

When Texas tested adult male Bhutanese refugees for tuberculosis, they found that 48 percent of them had LTBI (Latent TB Infection), 12 times the average rate for America.

Just to the east of North Dakota, many of the refugees in Minnesota have arrived with tuberculosis, ten times more than any other state at a total of 296 refugees:

During the five years between 2010 and 2014, 732 cases of active TB were diagnosed in Minnesota. Of these, 81 percent, or 593, were foreign-born. Of foreign-born cases, 50 percent, or 296, were refugees, according to “The Epidemiology of Tuberculosis in Minnesota, 2010-2014,” a report published by the Minnesota Department of Health.

Minnesota’s 81 percent of TB cases diagnosed among foreign-born residents is significantly higher than the 66 percent of TB cases in the entire country that were diagnosed among foreign-born residents in 2015.

Another reason for the interest was the case of the recent terrorist stabbing attack in Saint Cloud by Dahir Adan, a Somalian refugee whose brother Abdullahi is currently jailed in Fargo. ISIS later claimed Adan’s stabbing of eight people. The article states:

A man who stabbed nine people at a mall in central Minnesota before being shot dead is a “soldier of the Islamic State,” the militant group’s news agency said on Sunday, as the FBI investigated the attack as a potential act of terrorism.

In St. Cloud, the attacker entered the mall in the evening as it was busy with shoppers, Anderson said. He attacked his victims at several sites in the shopping center, which will remain closed on Sunday as police investigate, the police chief said.

The victims were male and female, Kleis said, and ranged in age from mid-50s to a 15-year-old girl.

Dahir’s brother, Abdullahi, is also currently in jail for being one of two people carrying “various amounts of drugs and over a thousand dollars in cash”:

Court records show Abdullahi Adan pleaded not guilty to two felony drug counts in July. He is being held at the Cass County Jail after being arrested for drugs back in June of this year in Fargo. During a traffic stop, an officer smelled marijuana, detained Adan and two other men, and subsequently found various amounts of drugs and over a thousand dollars in cash in the vehicle.

Adan also has a pending appeal with the North Dakota Supreme Court after being arrested in the western part of the state late last year, officers again finding a large amount of marijuana.

Abdullahi Adan is part of a group of inmates suing the Cass County Jail, alleging pork had been included in their meals. As the men are Muslim, their religion does not permit them to ingest pork.

Two Views of Refugee Resettlement

The recent Fargo city commission meeting gives two different and summary views of the issue. John Strand says that we should take into account the real difficulties refugees have to face, while Dave Piepkorn wants to understand the costs the county is having to pay while it chooses to take in refugees.

Below is City Commissioner John Strand:

STRANAHAN: So we’re talking to City Commissioner John Strand. During the discussion about the refugee program today, you talked about the humanitarian obligation. Can you expand on that a little bit?

STRAND: Well, I’ll try. When we’re dealing with refugees, we’re dealing with individuals who are involuntarily displaced – it’s important to understand that. We’re dealing with people who have a stateless status; they don’t have any government that they’re part of or representing them while they’re in that situation of being displaced. They’re victims of U.S. policy over seas and the consequences of even our own government’s actions, and they’re under the authority of the U.N. high commissioner- the U.N. charter. So with that said, I don’t think we all understand, and I’m learning myself, that we all understand what it means to be a refugee, nor do I believe comprehend and understand the situations from which they came and the parts of their history that are very often so painful that people can’t even talk about them.

So I think that’s part of this picture. You know everybody here (except for Native Americans) came from immigrant families in the past. And yet, knock on wood, we weren’t forced to dislocate as refugees because of the circumstances they’re facing today. I think it behooves us and we’re called upon to have a humanitarian compassion.

STRANAHAN: And up here in far-North Dakota, you’ve seen interest in the community about this issue?

STRAND: Well, there is an issue. It’s new to us. We’re rather significantly a homogeneous community that’s evolving and becoming diverse through time and through circumstances of the world. And we have that unfolding in our own community, which brings to us unknowns, things we don’t understand, brings to us cultures, people, religions, and backgrounds we don’t quite understand. So we’re all growing into this, especially the new Americans who’ve landed here – often without even the language skills or the cultural skills or the technology skills that they inherit when they land here. So, that’s a reality. I believe any community that’s dealing with growth and diversity is challenged and needs to address on how they become more inclusive, how do they become more welcoming, how do they become more understanding and accepting, how do they participate and help in fashions where we work with each other, we mentor others, we help them reach their highest potential in life in careers, in home-ownership, in education, in feeling okay about their homes and the space they occupy. I think that’s a call we’re all challenged with, in not just a fiscal or fiduciary way, but in a heartfelt way, in a compassionate way, where I believe sincerely, this is a test to us – how we deal with others who aren’t so fortunate, and we’re part of their journeys forward in life, and we have a shared journey going forward. I believe this is a test of us, as well, and to me that’s a very important one.

Below is City Commissioner Dave Piepkorn:

PIEPKORN: I’m Dave Piepkorn, a Fargo City commissioner. What happened tonight, I was very pleased with our discussion. What we ended up deciding was, we’re gonna have continued research, and what we’re gonna do is look at is exactly how much money are we spending in our county on the refugees. That includes everything. That includes education, health care, transportation, housing, law enforcement, everything. So I was very pleased, and one of my cohorts supported it, as well, so I was a little surprised; he has his own agenda.

STRANAHAN: Who were you talking about?

PIEPKORN: John Strand. So we have a human relations commission, and so it will be directed. They’re a part of it, but I’m on the finance, so that’s my focus. The first step is to find out how much money we’re spending. The thing that came up that was the most concerning to me was, we, as public leaders, we have had no participation in determining the people that are coming here. Basically, what L.S.S. said was they have a group…

STRANAHAN: That’s Lutheran Social Services, correct?

PIEPKORN: Lutheran Social Services basically said they’re the ones that are deciding, and to me, that’s unacceptable, and so if I were to predict what’s gonna happen is we are gonna be the ones setting the number of refugees that come here, and we will know how much it’s gonna cost us. And the taxpayers deserve that.

STRANAHAN: And so Lutheran Social Services actually gave a presentation tonight at the commission meeting, and you felt some stuff was probably missing from their presentation because they’re involved.

PIEPKORN: Absolutely.

STRANAHAN: It was a good presentation but probably a little one-sided.

PIEPKORN: And I don’t blame them. They’re L.S.S. It’s what they do, and they did a good job, but there’s several questions I didn’t talk about. But for now we’re moving forward and our number one focus now is “how much is this costing the public in Fargo? How much money are we spending?” And I think when people find out all those numbers, they’re gonna be very disappointed.

STRANAHAN: Well, I thought as an outsider ,I did think it was a great example of — we got two sides of it, and you guys were completely civil, very friendly up there tonight, and trying to get to the bottom of this and having a public discussion about it. Have you noticed people in Fargo — is this a big issue for them?

PIEPKORN: Absolutely, if you get a chance, the local newspaper wrote an editorial criticizing me last Sunday, but unfortunately for them, they also ran a poll on what people thought of this, and 80 percent were in favor of what I was doing, so I think they found themselves in a bit of a tough spot because the majority of people wanna know what’s going on. And so that’s what we’re gonna find out.

STRANAHAN: Do you think there’s an element of political correctness?

PIEPKORN: Are you kidding me? You call yourself a journalist? (laughs)

STRANAHAN: It’s a softball.

PIEPKORN: Of course, political correctness. And if you’re not careful, political correctness is gonna get you killed.

STRANAHAN: It’s a softball, but it’s the kind of question the media never asks because they don’t want to acknowledge political correctness.

PIEPKORN: Of course not. The other thing: I didn’t want to attack L.S.S. because they’re just an agent. The main people, the thing that I’ve learned in the last couple of weeks, and I’ve gotten advice from all over the country, my main target now is John Hoeven. He’s our senator in North Dakota, he’s on the appropriations committee, and he also happens to be a very good friend of mine.

Americans Reject Refugee Resettlement

The backlash against refugee resettlement has roots and reasons that cannot be remedied by rhetoric alone, a fact made palpable in the form of polls showing that most Americans oppose resettling any refugees, finding that “fifty-three percent of U.S. adults in the survey, conducted in the days immediately following the attacks, say the nation should not continue a program to resettle up to 10,000 Syrian refugees.” It continues, “Just 28 percent would keep the program with the screening process as it now exists, while 11 percent said they would favor a limited program to accept only Syrian Christians while excluding Muslims, a proposal Obama has dismissed as ‘shameful’ and un-American.”

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