North Dakota county may become US’s 1st to bar new refugees

  • Reuben Panchol is shown Friday, Dec. 6, 2019 at the North Dakota state capitol in Bismarck. Panchol, who immigrated from Sudan to North Dakota as a child, says he hopes to tell his personal story at a meeting Monday, Dec. 9 at which the Burleigh County Commission may vote against accepting any new refugees. It's believed the county would be the first to do so since President Donald Trump's executive order earlier this fall gave states and counties the ability to do so. (AP Photo/James MacPherson) James MacPherson

Associated Press
Published: 12/8/2019 3:47:00 PM

Reuben Panchol was forced to leave war-torn Sudan decades ago as a child, embarking on an odyssey that eventually brought him to the American Midwest and left him eternally grateful to the country that took him in.

“I am an American citizen, a North Dakotan,” said Panchol, a 38-year-old father of four. “And without North Dakota, I couldn’t have made it.”

Panchol hopes to share his story on Monday with members of a local commission who are set to vote on whether their county will stop accepting refugees. If they vote to bar refugees, as expected, Burleigh County – home to about 95,000 people and the capital city of Bismarck – could become the first local government to do so since President Donald Trump issued an executive order making it possible.

The county postponed a vote last week when more than 100 people showed up and overflowed the commission’s normal meeting space. Monday night’s meeting will be held in a middle school cafeteria to accommodate public interest that Chairman Brian Bitner said is the most intense he’s seen in more than a decade on the commission.

Though he declined to predict which way the commission would go, Bitner said he would vote against accepting additional refugees.

“The overwhelming public opinion is so clear to me, that I think if you vote for it, you’re not going to be reelected if you choose to run again,” he said.

Trump’s executive order this fall came as he had already proposed cutting the number of refugees next year to the lowest level since Congress passed the Refugee Act of 1980. He declared that refugees should be resettled only in places where the state and local governments – counties – gave consent. Since then, many governors and counties around the country have declared that they would continue taking refugees.




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