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Refugee Advocates Say Disinformation Clouds Their Cause

North Dakota's Burleigh County received 24 refugees in 2019 and 22 the year before. (Christopher Herwig/Flickr)
North Dakota's Burleigh County received 24 refugees in 2019 and 22 the year before. (Christopher Herwig/Flickr)
December 12, 2019

BISMARCK, N.D. – Central North Dakota has been in the spotlight as Burleigh County considered whether to stop accepting refugees based on a federal policy change.

Even though the full plan failed, advocates say more education is needed to provide clarity in the debate.

Lutheran Social Services oversees refugee resettlement in North Dakota. And Shirley Dykshoorn, the organization's vice president for senior and humanitarian services, says while a lot of people opposed to accepting more refugees at the county level had informed opinions, there's still a lack of understanding in the general discussion.

"Our nation's immigration system is hard to understand, and if terms are interchanged, there's a lot of confusion on the part of the general public about what's the difference between a refugee and other types of immigrants," she points out.

Refugees are forced to leave their home countries because of persecution, war or violence. Immigrants generally come to the U.S. to join family or seek economic opportunity.

Burleigh County officials had signaled they would ban all refugees following a recent move by the Trump administration giving local governments the authority to do so.

But the county commission instead voted to cap the number for next year at 25.

Dykshoorn says many refugees were on hand to tell their stories to commissioners before the vote. She says those stories can make a big difference in guiding policy decisions, as well as educating the public.

"It always helps if we can understand on a personal level and hear those stories and really feel the situation that they're going through," she states.

Dykshoorn says conveying how successful refugees can become once they get settled, and the contributions they make to the community, also is helpful.

Some commissioners, along with various residents, had raised concerns about the potential cost burden of accepting refugees.

Mike Moen, Public News Service - ND