On a 2015 visit to Fargo, North Dakota, I joined a workshop hosted by the city to discuss new visions for a communal green space. The invitees included people who lived in neighborhoods surrounding a large, empty basin created to hold stormwater during deluges to prevent flooding. Seeing the basin as an opportunity to create community-friendly spaces in a fast-growing metropolis, the city organized a series of listening sessions and workshops to come up with ideas.
Just as the workshop was about to begin, a community organizer showed up with seven gentlemen, all recent arrivals to the area. They hailed from Somalia, Sudan, Bhutan, and Iraq. I was surprised to learn that almost 8 percent of Fargo's population is foreign born, largely refugees settled through Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota, the only federally approved resettlement organization in the state.
In recent years, North Dakota has led the nation in per capita refugee resettlement. Far from the snow-white portrayal in the eponymous Coen brothers' movie, Fargo is, in fact, a city of many colors.
People seeking asylum have been coming to the state since the 1940s. Previous groups hailed from Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and Bosnia. Today, they often come from Bhutan, Iraq, Somalia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
This is all part of a much larger drama.
The U.N. Refugee Agency estimates that 65.6 million people worldwide are on the move due to violence, climate disaster, and extreme economic hardship, "the highest levels of displacement on record." This includes nearly 22.5 million refugees--people facing such upheaval and risk that they walk away from their homes, communities, and even countries, into the unknown.
More than 85 percent of those refugees will find new homes in developing countries. Although the United States is a top supporter of international aid, the public here has long been mixed about offering a new home to people who no longer have one.
Still, since the Refugee Act of 1980, the United States has settled about three million refugees. While the cap on admissions has fluctuated according to global crises, it has averaged about 76,500 over the past decade.
Now, Donald Trump has dramatically lowered the total number of refugees allowed into the country to no more than 45,000, down from the 110,000 set by Barack Obama to accommodate people fleeing the war in Syria. That is the lowest level since the resettlement program was established in 1980.
Trump has dished out putdowns of immigrants and massive increases in funding for immigration and border control agencies. Soon after taking office, he banned...