ND opened its arms to oil workers, why not refugees too?

The Trump administration has given the states and local governments the ability to opt-out of federal refugee resettlement.

The feds, or the private groups doing resettlement for the feds, haven’t always been cooperative. City and county governments, not to mention school districts and social service organizations, have often found themselves struggling to manage the needs of refugees who often arrive with little in the way of notice.

According to data from the Department of Homeland Security, North Dakota has taken in more refugees per-capita than just about any other state in the nation.

A local veto over resettlement should, hopefully, inspire a more inclusive process.

Recently, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum announced that the state would continue to accept refugees. North Dakota’s local governments are in the process of making their own decisions in that regard.

Nobody has said “no” yet, but in Burleigh County, home to the state’s capital, the debate has become a bit heated.

Statewide, many North Dakotans are resistant to the idea of continued resettlement.

What I’m struggling to understand is why that is.

My colleague Mike McFeely posted on Twitter recently what I thought was a decent point, albeit one made in a needlessly ugly way.

“24 refugees arrived in Bismarck in 2019,” he wrote. “Wonder if Burleigh County residents were as concerned with the dozens of crooks, druggies, pimps and scum who came to western N.D. because of the oil boom?”

I’m not sure why stereotyping energy industry workers as “scum” is any better than stereotyping refugees.

For some people, hate is ok as long as it is the right sort of hate, I suppose.

Yet there are a lot of similarities between the influx of workers to North Dakota during the oil boom and the far more moderate stream of refugees.

In both instances, we’re dealing with people who are looking for an opportunity. A place they can live and work and find the prosperity and happiness it is every American’s right to pursue.

Some worry that the refugees won’t assimilate; that they’ll hold on to their native languages and practices and leave our communities Balkanized.

Those same fears applied to previous newcomers to our country.

Little Italy in New York City, as one example, is a tourist destination today, but once it was an immigrant neighborhood where the people mostly didn’t speak English and practiced the customs of their homeland.

Today the descendants of those immigrants are just Americans like the rest of us.

There is a danger that fears about assimilation can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

If refugees face hostility in North Dakota — if that hostility makes them feel isolated and even hated — is it reasonable to expect them to integrate with our communities successfully?

Why should they embrace us if we won’t embrace them?

Proponents of resettlement need to recognize the real challenges refugees present a community.

Some proponents have been quick to brand all critics as bigots and xenophobes, which is not helpful.

What we should be working on is making North Dakota a welcoming place for everyone.

New people from new places are not a threat, but an opportunity to grow and learn and prosper together.

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


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