Commissioners in a North Dakota county have voted to continue accepting refugees for resettlement, a choice they had under a new Trump administration policy that gives local governments the right to refuse.
The Burleigh County Commission, whose largely conservative jurisdiction includes the state capital of Bismarck, voted 3-2 on Monday against turning away new refugees. The commission agreed to take a maximum of 25 refugees over the next year.
It’s believed that the county, home to about 95,000 people, would have been the first to bar the resettling of refugees under an executive order signed by President Donald Trump in September. (Once refugees have been resettled in the U.S., however, they are free to move around the country.)
The county’s decision was not easy. Last week’s planned vote on the issue had to be postponed when residents overflowed the commission’s normal meeting space. Before Monday night’s vote, which was held in a middle school cafeteria, some residents waited in line for over three hours to address the commissioners.
“What is the strength of the United States, commissioners? It is our diversity. And that is what these people will bring to our community,” one resident told them.
“There are a lot of other families that are waiting for approval and all they have is hope and they just need a chance to prove it,” said one man, who identified himself as a former refugee who moved to Bismarck from Pakistan in 2016.
Others expressed concern that immigrants aren’t being vetted enough before they enter the U.S. and that the Burleigh County community doesn’t have enough resources to support more refugees.
Bismarck Mayor Steve Bakken was among those who spoke out against resettling refugees in his community, saying that he wanted to know more about the financial impact.
“We don’t know the numbers. We don’t have the answers. We don’t have all of the information that we need to make an informed decision,” he said, according to the Bismarck Tribune.
Trump’s decision to let local governments refuse to participate in the resettlement program came as he slashed the number of refugees who can be admitted into the U.S. this fiscal year to 18,000, which is the lowest number since Congress passed the Refugee Act of 1980.