Los Angeles Times: Once a Haven for Immigrants, A City is Turning Against Refugees Under President Trump

On January 9th, 2020, the Los Angeles Times published an important and illuminating story on Bismarck, North Dakota—a relatively small and racially homogenous city that, while once considered to be a haven for refugees from all around the world, has become a much more challenging place for immigrants to live in the era of President Trump. 

Bismarck, ND Had a Long History of Welcoming Refugees

When you think of immigration, North Dakota is probably not the first place that comes to mind. That is understandable: North Dakota remains one of the least diverse states in the country. Still, things have been changing in recent decades. As reported by the North Dakota Census Bureau, the minority population in North Dakota has more than doubled over the past two decades—increasing substantially as a percentage of the overall population in the state. 

In particular, the capital city, Bismarck, has long been viewed as an under-the-radar haven for refugees and asylum seekers. With considerable assistance from Lutheran Social Services, which provides important support to immigrants in the state, Bismarck is home to thousands of refugees from a wide range of different countries, including Bhutan, Iraq, Somalia, and the Congo. Unfortunately, many refugees and immigration rights activists report that things have changed in the last few years. 

A Trump Administration Rule Radically Changed the Environment

The negative impact caused by President Trump’s rhetoric and his general view of immigrants and asylum seekers cannot be overstated. It has become a serious problem and words matter. There is little doubt that the language of candidate Trump, now President Trump, and his allies have made life more difficult for immigrants—both in North Dakota and throughout the United States. 

At the same time, the issue here is about real policy changes that the Trump Administration has made. To start, the Trump Administration has dramatically slashed the number of refugees entering the United States. In fact, the president brought the refugee limit down to just 18,000 in 2019, the lowest level in modern history, and far below where it was under President Obama when 110,000 refugees were admitted each year. 

Beyond that, a new Trump Administration policy allows local governments to block refugee resettlement. Under the current structure of the law, local governments must reaffirm accepting refugees each year—meaning the administration has essentially designed this matter to remain a hot button political issue. While only two counties have actually passed local refugee resettlement bans thus far (one in Minnesota and one in Virginia) tensions are rising across the country, including in Bismarck. 

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