Monday, January 25, 2021 - 02:05pm

Gov. Doug Burgum today announced that the North Dakota Department of Human Services (DHS) intends to temporarily administer the federally funded refugee resettlement program in North Dakota to preserve in-state control of the program after Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota (LSSND) announced it is unexpectedly closing its doors and will no longer manage the program.

“North Dakota has had decades of proven success at integrating refugees who are fully vetted by the U.S. State Department and have become responsible citizens and productive members of our state’s private sector workforce,” Burgum said. “While we would prefer to have a third party administer the federally funded refugee program, the alternative – allowing the federal government to resettle refugees in North Dakota with far less state input or control – is not an acceptable option. The Department of Human Services is prepared to administer the program to ensure that refugee resettlement in North Dakota continues in a thoughtful, orderly and responsible manner at no additional cost to North Dakota taxpayers.”

Under North Dakota law, DHS is responsible for refugee services. Until 2010, DHS employed a full-time refugee coordinator and administered the refugee resettlement program, acting as a pass-through entity for federal funding and playing a significant role in the state’s involvement in refugee resettlement.

In July 2010, DHS transitioned refugee resettlement services to LSSND as directed by then-Gov. John Hoeven, and the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement designated LSSND as refugee coordinator for North Dakota. North Dakota currently operates with LSSND as a replacement designee, which is an entity other than state government that leads on providing integrated services and assistance to increase refugees’ prospects for early employment and self-sufficiency.

With LSSND ending its role in refugee resettlement, North Dakota is left with three options:

  • Find another nonprofit organization to manage refugee resettlement as a replacement designee. No viable options have been identified at this time.
  • Decline to participate in administering the program, which would allow the U.S. State Department to resettle refugees in North Dakota with far less state input into where or how many refugees are settled.
  • Direct DHS to temporarily administer the program while evaluating what is in the state’s best interest for the program’s long-term future, which may or may not involve third-party administration.

The intent is for the resettlement program to report to DHS Executive Director Chris Jones.

“To temporarily administer the program, DHS intends to work with local partners to assure in-community delivery of core services that support integration and self-sufficiency for legally resettled adults and children,” Jones said.

The number of refugees accepted into the United States each year is set annually by the president in consultation with Congress. North Dakota resettled 124 refugees in fiscal year 2019 and 44 refugees in fiscal year 2020.

Resettled refugees are legal residents once they are accepted into the United States, which happens only after they undergo a rigorous screening process including background checks and interviews before they are brought to the United States for resettlement by the State Department.

The Office of Refugee Resettlement website explains the difference between legal refugees and asylees, who enter the United States on their own and subsequently apply for a grant of asylum through U.S. Homeland Security. In fiscal year 2017, 95 percent of refugees resettled in North Dakota had existing family ties in their resettlement location.

Since LSSND announced last week that it would be closing its doors and suspending programs, DHS has been working to review contracted services and determine how to sustain vital programs once provided by LSSND. More information on those programs and services, including those supporting behavioral health, adoption, foster care and child care needs, is available here.