BISMARCK — North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum is calling for closer scrutiny into the federal government's resettlement of Afghan refugees to address security concerns recently raised by Republican senators on Capitol Hill.
The Afghan refugee resettlement program is already underway in North Dakota, with the state slated to receive a total of 49 people evacuating from Afghanistan in the wake of the Middle Eastern government's collapse this summer.
Burgum initially welcomed the resettlement program in North Dakota, but a spokesperson said Friday, Oct. 8, that the second-term Republican would like for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. State Department to respond to red flags raised earlier this month before the program moves forward.
"Governor Burgum supports the resettlement of legal, thoroughly-vetted refugees," said spokesman Mike Nowatzki. "If there are valid concerns or credible evidence that refugees haven't been fully vetted, then the governor would not support those resettlements until those concerns are addressed."
In a letter sent Monday, 16 GOP senators, including Sens. John Hoeven and Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, urged the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to pause the resettlement program, for all evacuees except those possessing special immigrant visas, until several security gaps had been resolved.
"The Biden Administration’s security vetting procedures to clear Afghans entering the country remain unclear and incomplete, and, unless changed, are insufficient to preserve the safety of the American homeland," the senators wrote. The group of Republicans cited reports of disease, terrorist affiliations and criminal records identified among some Afghan evacuees, arguing that a hurried resettlement process by President Joe Biden's administration has left holes in the country's security assessments.
Nowatzki said Burgum takes the concerns "very seriously" and noted that state refugee coordinator Holly Triska-Dally passed the senators' letter on to federal officials during a meeting with the State Department and counterparts from other states on Friday.
Dan Hannaher, the North Dakota field director for Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, which is assisting in the resettlement of Afghans to the Fargo area, said he is awaiting Homeland Security's response to the senators' questions, but added that the examples cited in the letter seem to "simply reflect the fact that vetting process is taking place."
"Obviously we need to take the senators' questions and concerns seriously," he said. "But I am convinced that all of the agencies involved in this process are doing a thorough and efficient vetting of these Afghans."
Those eligible to be resettled in the U.S. under the federally funded Afghan Placement and Assistance program either worked for the U.S. military, a U.S. government-funded program, an American media organization or a non-governmental organization like the Red Cross.
In a statement to The Forum after last month's announcement of 49 refugees coming to North Dakota, Burgum said North Dakota has had success at integrating "legal, thoroughly vetted" refugees into the state's citizenry and workforce.
"We expect the same with the resettlement of these Afghan evacuees," the governor said at the time. "And we welcome them to Fargo and North Dakota and thank those who helped and worked alongside U.S. soldiers and personnel in Afghanistan."
So far, one refugee has arrived in North Dakota through the federal resettlement program, Hannaher said, a woman who reunited with her husband and who has since relocated to Colorado. The next arrival is scheduled for later this month, and Hannaher said he does not anticipate the senators' letter to alter the timeline of that resettlement.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Adam Willis, a Report for America corps member, at firstname.lastname@example.org.