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Ward County Commission hears immigration explanation

Immigration statuses clarified at meeting

Jill Schramm/MDN Janet Mathistad speaks to the Ward County Commission regarding immigration Tuesday.

A Minot resident offered insight on refugee and asylum immigration to Ward County commissioners Tuesday as they consider a future resolution against illegal immigration.

Commissioners received petitions earlier this month from residents seeking a resolution and are expected to take action at a future meeting.

Janet Mathistad, a Lutheran minister, spoke to clarify refugee status and asylum seekers for the commission.

Mathistad explained refugees are those who flee their own countries, often due to violence, and spend years in refugee camps while vetted by the U.S. government before being allowed into this country.

“When they arrive, they’re turned right into the hands of an organization that the government has given authority to work with them. Here in North Dakota we have an immigration and refugee service that works with refugees here, and they’re only able to operate under the license of the federal government, so it’s not independent groups doing this,” she said.

In North Dakota, only Bismarck, Fargo and Grand Forks are authorized to receive refugees.

Refugees receive housing, some medical care and language assistance from the sponsoring organization, which is Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service in North Dakota. Refugees are allowed to work immediately and receive assistance finding jobs.

Asylum seekers are immigrants who seek asylum after arriving to this country, Mathistad said. They do not have sponsoring organizations and are not allowed to legally work for a year.

Mathistad said often negative reactions toward immigrants are fear-based.

“It seems inappropriate to make petitions based on the fear of what somebody might do,” she said. “Minot has plenty of homegrown crime as well so I don’t know that we need to be so frightened of immigrants or people coming in, particularly refugees.”

She recounted good experiences locally with refugees back in the 1980s when Minot was receiving them. A former refugee who grew up in Minot went on to have a career with the U.S. State Department and National Security Council, stationed in Iraq after the war in 2003, she said.

“It’s my hope that we’ll continue to be open and welcoming to those who are looking for a chance at a better life,” she said.

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