White House clarifies proposed figures for refugee resettlement as local jurisdictions weigh consent

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The Governor’s Office today shared information provided by the White House to ensure that accurate information is being used as local jurisdictions determine whether to consent to continued refugee resettlement.

Under an executive order issued by President Donald J. Trump in September, both the state and local governments must consent in order to receive refugees under the U.S. State Department’s Reception and Placement Program. On Nov. 19, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum sent a letter of consent to Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo stating that “North Dakota consents to receive resettlement refugees, in conjunction with the continued assent and cooperation of local jurisdictions in our state.”

The Governor’s Office sought clarification last week from the White House’s Office of Intergovernmental Affairs after receiving communications from Burleigh County constituents which suggested the United States planned to resettle roughly 1.35 million refugees in the next fiscal year. According to the White House, that number is incorrect.

According to the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, the United States plans to admit up to 18,000 refugees in fiscal year 2020 through the resettlement program.

The United States also has a backlog of processing asylum claims for nearly 1 million people already in the United States, and anticipates processing more than 350,000 new asylum claims in fiscal year 2020, but those individuals are not part of the refugee resettlement program.

Lutheran Social Services, which is the refugee resettlement agency for North Dakota, does not work with asylum-seekers through its refugee resettlement program. The agency may provide integration services to people once they are granted asylum, but it says such cases are rare as asylum-seekers have already been living in the United States as they await adjudication of their asylum claims.

The Office of Intergovernmental Affairs confirmed that local jurisdictions will need to consent every year for refugee resettlement to continue. Burgum emphasized the importance of local jurisdictions relying upon accurate information to make their decisions.

“We support the administration giving states and local jurisdictions the consent authority on whether to continue receiving refugees, and we respect the right to exercise local control,” Burgum said. “That being said, we have serious concerns that denying resettlement to a handful of well-vetted and often family-connected refugees would send a negative signal beyond our borders at a time when North Dakota is facing a severe workforce shortage and trying to attract capital and talent to our state.”

The U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement website explains the difference between refugees, who are granted refugee status overseas by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security after a rigorous screening process and are brought to the United States for resettlement by the U.S. Department of State, and asylees, who enter the United States on their own and subsequently apply for a grant of asylum through Homeland Security.

The Office of Intergovernmental Affairs also stated that up to 10,000 Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) holders – individuals who were employed by or on behalf of the U.S. government in either Iraq or Afghanistan – are eligible for reception and placement services through the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program. Unlike refugees, SIV holders can choose where to settle in the United States. LSS is allowed to provide services to SIV holders and has served up to 21 annually since 2016, though none were served in 2019, according to the agency, which includes SIV holders in its reported total for refugee resettlements.

For the 2019 fiscal year, LSS resettled a total of 132 refugees in North Dakota, including 24 in Burleigh County, and anticipates resettling roughly that same number in Burleigh County in fiscal year 2020.

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