Roller Coaster” by Nick Page

November 26, 2017; Bismarck Tribune

In Fargo, Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota expects it will resettle 352 people over fiscal year 2018. That number was 421 in 2017 and 563 in 2016. CEO Shirley Dykshoorn says that resettlement agencies have been on this roller coaster ride for some time and that the drop is not unprecedented in a field that has become a political football. This year’s low numbers, in fact, are the result of a dwindling national quota for refugees, the result of a series of executive actions.

And this isn’t the most precipitous drop the agency has experienced in a field driven by political winds; from the high peak of 633 people LSS served in fiscal year 2000, there was a sharp decline to the historic low of just 51 people in 2002.

Still, the wildly fluctuating number of resettlements has led the organization, with a revenue base of more than $40 million, to keep an eye on its staffing needs even while realizing that cutting experienced staff would be shortsighted. In Grand Forks, Reggie Tarr, who monitors the resettlement programs there, says their numbers have been cut in half but the situation is too unpredictable to make any sudden staffing changes. For now, they are “holding on to see how things unfold.”

“Nobody knows when another executive order will come in or what might be triggered by something else,” Tarr said.

In the meantime, some additional slack may be provided by an increasingly large force of volunteers. Cynthia Shabb is executive director of the Global Friends Coalition. “I’d say our volunteer numbers remain very high, and volunteer commitment is probably the highest it’s ever been,” Shabb says. “I think we’re going to close out this year with many more volunteer hours reported to us than any other year.”

Still, says Shabb, she worries about even their private funders. “At least one has come out and said, with the current climate, the way it is in the country right now, they’re not going to fund refugee work, or at least what we wanted to do, because they didn’t want us to be a target of hostility.”

As Dykshoorn says, “There’s just a lot of uncertainty right now.”—Ruth McCambridge