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County That Seemed Set to Bar Refugees Changes Course

Burleigh County Commission votes 3-2 to accept up to 25 in 2020
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Dec 10, 2019 2:21 PM CST
Residents in support of continued refugee resettlement hold signs at a meeting in Bismarck, N.D., Monday Dec. 9. 2019.   (AP Photo/James MacPherson)
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(Newser) – A North Dakota county on Monday voted to accept no more than 25 refugees next year, after initially signaling it would be the first to ban them since President Trump ordered that states and counties should have the power to do so. The 3-2 vote by the Burleigh County Commission, which included a provision for further study of the issue, followed a four-hour meeting and came a week after a vote was postponed when the audience overflowed the county's usual meeting space. If commissioners had voted no, refugee resettlement groups say they believe Burleigh—home to about 95,000 people and the capital city of Bismarck—would have been be the first local government to do since Trump's executive order in September, reports the AP.

Burleigh County doesn't receive many refugees—just 24 in fiscal 2019, after 22 the year before—but interest in the vote has been intense. At Monday's meeting, a standing-room-only crowd of more than 450 people showed up testifying for and against refugee resettlement. Opponents cited lack of control and the potential new costs of supporting refugees; the county doesn't track such costs. Several refugees, in often emotional testimony, urged the commission to continue accepting new arrivals. "Look at the room and tell every immigrant here that they are not welcomed," said Geraldine Ambe, who moved to Bismarck from Cameroon and is now a US Citizen. She said her aunt and her husband and their four children "ran from Nigeria to seek protection. Please look at her face and tell her 'we can't help you.'"

(Read more refugees stories.)

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