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Editorial: Assess costs and benefits of resettlement

Refugee-resettlement isn't just a flashpoint in East Coast cities and airports. It's showing up in conversations and policy proposals in Bismarck, Fargo, several cities in Minnesota—and Grand Forks.

Residents on all sides should listen and learn. For both the skeptics and the supporters have important messages; and if they'd only start talking to rather than past each other—while banning the word "racism" from the conversation—something good might actually result.

The skeptics have a point: The public wants to know more about the costs. Make that, the public is demanding to know more about the costs, and also about how authorities are addressing our resettlement policy's risks.

Those risks have shown up repeatedly in Europe, where terrorist mass-murders and refugee mass-migrations helped spark Brexit and have thrown the European Union into something close to turmoil.

Is it that unreasonable for Americans to worry about similar dynamics here?

Another factor: If you want to deeply alienate any group of Americans, take away their sense of control. But refugee resettlement seems to do that deliberately. It's a federal program, and one that lawmakers repeatedly have complained denies state and local governments much say.

That's a factor in President Trump's recent executive order. A section of it calls for assessing whether "state and local jurisdictions may have greater involvement in the process of determining the placement or resettlement of refugees."

It's the driving force behind House Bill 1427 in Bismarck, which would both require a detailed listing of resettlement costs, and let cities and the governor impose a resettlement pause.

And it has pushed repeated efforts in Fargo to spell out the resettlement costs.

In North Dakota, the common thread is that the skeptics are asking for something reasonable, which is a full accounting of the policy's costs.

Supporters should recognize the reasonableness of that request. Then they should stop resisting and start fulfilling it.

If they did so, they'd be much better positioned to make a reasonable request of their own. That would be, "And now, let's assess the benefits, too."

Chuck Haga, a retired Herald staff writer and former board member of the Global Friends Coalition, made this point in a recent letter. As it stands, HB 1427's accounting "does not appear to include such positive impacts as jobs filled, taxes paid, paychecks spent on goods and services and rent and exposure for our young people to diversity and the increasingly global society they will soon join," Haga wrote.

That should change, as any meaningful tally of a policy's impacts simply must include benefits as well as costs. And in Grand Forks as elsewhere, those benefits—including large numbers of refugees filling entry-level jobs around town—are significant.

Resettlement supporters mustn't fear listing costs, while resettlement skeptics must be open to facts about benefits. If both sides would at least listen to each other in this manner, refugee resettlement could come a long, long way.

-- Grand Forks Herald editorial board, written by Tom Dennis.