Identifying Perceptions Held by North Dakota Residents towards Refugees and the Effects of Refugee Resettlement on North Dakota Communities

On August 6th 2015, WDAY Valley News Live aired “Fargo and West Fargo could see 350 refugees move to cities by the end of September” (Burner 2015), a broadcast that prompted residents of North Dakota to begin an on-line petition against future resettlement of refugees (Valley News Live 2015). The petition is two-fold: signees demand that the state legislature grant residents of North Dakota the right to vote on further refugee resettlement and that Lutheran Social Services (LSS), the non-profit agency that resettles refugees in North Dakota, release all data on funding for refugee programs (Stop Lutheran Social Services in Fargo 2015). As of November 27th 2015, 3,257 residents of North Dakota and residents of other states such as Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio, Florida, Texas, Utah, Kentucky, Washington, Indiana, and Idaho, have signed the petition (Stop refugee resettlement 2015).

An opposing petition was started on August 2015. As of November 27th 2015, 163 residents predominantly from North Dakota and Minnesota have signed the petition. The petition requests that the state legislature, in addition to the 350 refugees resettled in the first half of 2015, bring more refugees into the Cass county area during the remainder of the 2015 fiscal year (Cass County Legislature 2015). Additionally, the signees of the petition declared that, as residents, they “would find more ways to donate to LSS” and as taxpayers, they want to lobby the legislature to donate more of residents’ tax money to LSS. In both petitions, signees are given the option to provide an explanation for supporting the petition of their interest.

Perceptions of North Dakota residents towards refugees in North Dakota have not been previously investigated. Unlike prior studies on refugees, North Dakota is an ethnically homogenous, low populated, and a rural state. Studies on immigrants conducted in similar geographic and demographic areas suggest the need for further research. In particular, data on immigrant populations in areas like North Dakota is contradictory. Whereas, a study conducted by Kim (2001) shows that small town ethnically homogenous communities express different degrees of hostility towards strangers and are more likely to act less receptive towards new comers from a “lesser known and more visibly different culture” (P 79), Fennelly and Fedrico (2007) find that rural residents are more supportive of restrictive immigration policies than residents in urban and suburban areas. Therefore, identifying how North Dakota residents view refugees will be helpful to determine which of the aforementioned views are applicable to North Dakota.

My study aims to identify perceptions held by North Dakota residents towards refugees and the effects of refugee resettlement on North Dakota communities. Data for the study will be petitioners’ reasons for signing each petition. The study intends to conduct a content analysis by focusing only on the comments made by the North Dakota residents. Intergroup Threat Theory and the concept, relative deprivation will guide the analysis.

Tania Arseculeratne


CDS and IACD Conference Presentation

I presented some findings of my ongoing research at the Community Development Society (CDS) and International Association for Community Development (IACD) conference held in Bloomington, Minnesota from July 24th to 27th, 2016. The theme of the conference was “sustaining community change- Building local capacity to sustain development initiatives.” My presentation was well attended. I received positive feedback to further improve my research.

View presentation on Host Community Perceptions Towards Refugee in North Dakota