On July 12, 2017

Rutland Syrian refugee resettlement: We’re in a holding pattern

By Alan Keays, VTDigger

Rutland City leaders say the status of the Syrian refugee resettlement initiative in Rutland is uncertain following a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

President Donald Trump issued an executive order in January calling for a 120 day halt to the resettlement program. Syria was included on the list of countries affected by that order. Also, the number of refugees allowed into the country in the 2016 fiscal year was reduced from 110,000 to 50,000.

The order was initially blocked by lower courts. Last month the Supreme Court allowed Trump’s executive order to remain in place, including the part involving refugees. Exemptions were provided for those who have close family relationships, as well as business or education connections to people or organizations in the United States.

After the cap of 50,000 refugees allowed into the country this federal fiscal year is reached, estimated to be sometime next week, the new rules will be implemented.

And that has led to the uncertainty for the initiative in Rutland, especially over what constitutes for a refugee a “bona fide” connection to a person or organization. It’s not clear if a refugee’s connection with a resettlement program is enough to allow that person into the country.

The implications of the federal ruling for the city are unclear. Representatives with the resettlement program did not return calls this week seeking comment, and city officials say they aren’t sure now what is happening, or what will happen, to the effort that stirred months of heated debate in Rutland.

“It was an uncertain situation before the Supreme Court decision,” Rutland City Alderman William Notte, a supporter of the resettlement effort, said Friday. “Their decision, especially how it was worded, has thrown even more confusion into the process.”

Rutland City Mayor David Allaire, who opposed the resettlement initiative in his campaign for office earlier this year, said Friday that he isn’t aware how the process will play out from here.

“I don’t know anything more than anybody else,” the mayor said. “As far as I know we’re in a holding pattern.”

When then-Mayor Christopher Louras’ announced in April 2016 the refugee resettlement initiative in Rutland, strong debate followed. One group, Rutland Welcomes, formed to support the effort, and another, Rutland First, opposed it.

Louras since lost his reelection bid to Allaire, then a city alderman, in March. Louras blamed his support for the refugee resettlement program for his defeat.

Photo by John Lazenby

A rally in Rutland supporting refugee resettlement.

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