On October 18, 2017

Agency reduces refugee resettlement plans

By Alan Keays, VTDigger

RUTLAND—Rutland has recently received word that the number of refugees the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program plans to resettle in the city in federal fiscal year 2018 has been reduced from 100 to 75 in a “preliminary revised plan” by the U.S. State Department. Denise Lamoureux, state refugee coordinator, sent an email Monday to leaders of community organizations in Rutland discussing the change.

The reduction follows a call by President Donald Trump late last month to cut the number of refugees admitted into the country to 45,000. That’s far lower than the previous fiscal year, when President Barack Obama set that cap at 110,000.

Rutland Mayor David Allaire said Thursday that litigation and court action nationally associated with the president’s immigration orders raises uncertainty over just how many refugees will actually be resettled in the city this year.

In the prior fiscal year, three families, totaling 14 refugees, resettled in Rutland. The plan had called for up to 100 Syrian and Iraqi refugees to resettle in the city by Sept. 30, about a year after the city had been designated a resettlement site by the U.S. Department of State.

However, Trump’s executive orders, issued shortly after he took office in January, and the resulting legal challenges stalled that effort.

“These tentative plans are just that, tentative,” Allaire said of the revised figure for the current fiscal year. “Until it all gets sorted out, I assume in the end at the United States Supreme Court, everything seems to be on hold.”

Alderman William Notte, a supporter of refugee resettlement in the city, said Thursday he shared that feeling of uncertainty. “Given everything playing out in the federal level, which is where these decisions are made, I will breathe a sigh of relief when these individuals are actually here,” Notte said. “Am I positive people are coming? No. Last year we were slotted for 100 and we were fortunate to get 14. I’m certainly hopeful we will get the full 75.”

Lamoureux’s email also stated that a meeting set for Oct. 19 of the Rutland Refugee and Immigrant Service Providers Network has been canceled “due to no new refugee family arrival in Rutland at this time. … However,” the email added, “there is hope that additional refugees will have arrived by the time of our next scheduled meeting on December 21st.”

Allaire posted that email to his Facebook page this week, along with a separate email from Amila Merdzanovic, Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program director, which also relayed information about the revised plans for 75 refugees for Rutland. “Additional security vetting procedures are expected to be instituted in FY 2018,” Merdzanovic’s email added. “Currently, it is not clear how this will impact processing times for refugees.”

Lamoureux and Merdzanovic could not be reached Thursday for comment.

The New York Times recently reported that the plan to cap refugee admissions at 45,000 is the lowest any White House has sought since 1980. That’s the year, the Times added, legislation gave the president a role in establishing a cap on refugees.

For the past several months there has been little, if any, debate or discussion about refugee resettlement at city meetings.

“My feeling about this right along has been if indeed there are more families that are coming into Rutland, refugee resettlement families, I would welcome them as I would anyone else,” Allaire said Thursday. “This is a federal program; the Rutland government has no control over the numbers or anything else.”

Notte said Thursday he believed that the scaling back in the number of refugees planned for resettlement in Rutland this fiscal year actually shows that the process is working. “I know there were some people who had fears it was going to be 100 people every year and it was going to be like clockwork and it was going to overload the system,” he said. “I think the fact that it’s been reduced by 25 bodies shows that the proper analysis is being done for what the community can handle on a year-to-year basis.”

The Trump administration has contended that the lower cap figure is needed to ensure proper vetting and screening of refugees.

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