Given the current political climate, Gov. Phil Scott took a bold position in reaffirming his commitment to resettling new refugees.
Scott wrote a letter to President Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo outlining how our state’s refugee communities have made “countless contributions to our state.”
The Republican governor, who is up for re-election this fall, also offered an invitation for refugees to come to Vermont should any state take Trump up on his offer.
“As Governor, I have made it my top priority to grow our workforce and attract more workers to our state,” Scott wrote. “The Refugee Resettlement program is one tool in our toolbox when it comes to meeting this goal; to the extent other states may not consent to resettle refugees, I hope refugees will consider Vermont a welcoming place that can meet their needs.”
In all, Vermont has welcomed almost 8,000 refugees since 1989, primarily from Bhutan, Burma, Bosnia, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan and Vietnam, according to the Associated Press last week.
In his letter, Scott also indicated that he hopes to resettle more refugees. “Prior to 2017, Vermont was resettling an average of approximately 324 refugees per year,” Scott wrote. “Through this consent process I hope to increase current resettlement to the level of 324-350 individuals annually. Vermont has never conditioned and will never condition refugee resettlement on a refugee’s race, ethnicity, religion or national origin.”
He noted that 100% of refugees who resettled in Vermont during fiscal 2019 were economically self-sufficient within eight months of arrival.
Scott said he will reach out to lawmakers this session to consult with local governments interested in resettling refugees into their communities.
This compassionate and well-meaning approach is something Vermonters should be proud of. We should welcome the opportunity. But not everyone agrees.
In an executive order, signed in September, Trump said he determined that the federal government should resettle refugees only in jurisdictions “in which both the state and local governments have consented to receive refugees under the Department of State’s Reception and Placement Program.”
The order requires that any governors who wish to accept refugees must inform the federal government before Jan. 21.
The Trump administration has steadily cut the number of refugees admitted into the U.S. overall, proposing capping the number of refugees at 45,000 in 2017, 30,000 in 2018 and 18,000 in 2019.
Scott is an outlier.
Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas late last week vetoed the resettlement of refugees in his state, turning a state that has traditionally been one of the most welcoming into the first to reject refugees under an executive order issued by the president.
In his letter sent to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Abbott cited the surge in migrants crossing the southwestern border last year as his reason for turning away refugees now.
“Texas has carried more than its share in assisting the refugee resettlement process and appreciates that other states are available to help with these efforts,” Abbott said, adding that the state had resettled more refugees than any other state since the 2010 fiscal year, according to The New York Times.
We hope Abbott’s veto will be reversed this week when a federal judge in Maryland is expected to rule on whether the president exceeded his authority with the executive order that gave local governments veto power over refugee resettlement. Judge Peter Messitte, a Clinton nominee, pressed the federal government and questioned if the order was politically motivated.
Abbott’s rejection came even as leaders of major Texas cities, including San Antonio and Dallas, sent the federal government letters supporting the resettlement of refugees in their communities.
“Regardless of where someone is from, who they are or what they believe, there is a home for them in Houston,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said in a statement. “Our welcoming spirit has led to our city becoming the national leader in refugee resettlement.”
Many U.S. communities, including a few in Vermont, have said they would open their doors to refugees, including 42 states and at least 90 local governments, according to a spokesman for Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, which has been tracking the number of letters consenting to refugee resettlement.
Abbott issued the fourth refugee rejection under the executive order. Leaders in Appomattox County, Va., and Beltrami County, Minn., and Springfield, Mass., which has a sizable refugee population, also rejected refugees. “It’s time for other much more affluent communities to take on their fair share,” Mayor Domenic Sarno told The Republican newspaper, saying that “Springfield is at capacity.”
Vermont is not. Scott is right in keeping that door open.