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Executive Order Expected To Halt Rutland Refugee Resettlements

Downtown Historic District, Rutland, Vermont
Sfoskett/Wikimedia Commons
Downtown Historic District, Rutland, Vermont

President Donald Trump is expected to sign an executive order suspending the nation’s refugee resettlement program for 120 days.  The move would halt efforts by Rutland, Vermont to bring Syrian refugees to that city.
The draft executive order titled “Protecting the Nation from Terrorist Attacks by Foreign Nationals” suspends visas for at least 30 days for people from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria or Yemen.  It also puts the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program on hold for 120 days during which the program will be reviewed and changes made.  It mandates a reduction of refugees to 50,000 for fiscal year 2017.  

Amid fierce debate, the city of Rutland has been preparing for nearly a year to welcome nearly 100 Syrian refugee families to the community.  Two families arrived this month and they are now expected to be the only refugees to make it to the central Vermont community.  Board of Aldermen President William Notte is disappointed with the president’s action.   “There’s no rational reason to keep these very desperate people out of our country.  I think this is a decision based solely on fear and a desire to capitalize on that fear. Rutland was ready and able to move forward with this program and it’s just very unfortunate that with one stroke of his pen the President of the United States can effectively kill something that hundreds of people here have been excited about, have been positive about, have worked hard to bring about and really saw as a way to move our community forward.”

Notte adds that there is mixed reaction in Rutland to the Executive Order.   “There was always a very loud group who was adamantly opposed to refugee resettlement and they’re celebrating this decision quite frankly.  They feel that President Trump has in effect saved their community. But I don’t believe they are the majority of people in Rutland.”

Rutland Welcomes is a group of volunteers that has been preparing for the refugee families.  Spokesperson Jennie Gartner says a friend is hosting one of the two refugee families that made it to Rutland.   “The mother of one of the families was commenting just about how it’s so hard for people because they’ve been waiting for years, in some cases three, four and five years to try to get into the United States. And now perhaps their hopes aren’t completely dashed but certainly their hopes have been put on hold.”

The Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program opened an office in Rutland this month but Notte doubts it will remain open.  The program has been working with the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants.  Director of Government Relations Stacie Blake says the order will affect the entire country.   “This would be a significant pivot for America and runs counter to our historical leadership on this issue.”

Meanwhile Gartner, who teaches social studies, says the president’s order exposes hopes and fears for the resettlement program and the country.   “My long term hope is that the program will be restarted and that Rutland will be one of many hundreds of resettlement sites around the country and it will continue to be a place that is a haven for those who seek refuge. And my long term fear is that this is just the start of a closing of our borders and starting of isolationism as we saw at the early 20th century which resulted in two disastrous world wars. I feel like at this point we could be on the path to retreating from our position as a leader in the world and it’s a world that so desperately needs the leadership of the United States as a beacon of hope and democracy for people around the world.”

Vermont’s attorney general has appointed a task force to advise him on his legal authority regarding enforcement of federal immigration law.  Last November officials in Burlington began steps to formalize sanctuary city status, and city officials plan to study the implications of another Trump executive order instructing federal agencies to cut federal grants to sanctuary cities.

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