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Despite Unanimous City Council Support For Refugee Resettlements, Springfield's Mayor Won't Budge


The mayor of Springfield, Massachusetts said the city will refuse any additional refugees for resettlement.  It puts him at odds, again, with the City Council on an immigration issue. 

   Mayor Domenic Sarno said he will not notify federal agencies that Springfield will continue to participate in refugee resettlement programs – an “opt-in” that is a requirement now because of an executive order issued earlier this year by President Trump.

   Shortly after Trump announced the order last September, Sarno told reporters Springfield was “at capacity” when it came to accepting more refugees.

   "My thoughts, again, are Springfield has done more than its fair share," he said.

   Sarno has long held to the belief that refugees impose a burden on the city’s public schools and other city services.

   "I have to provide opportunities, I have to provide education, I have to provide public safety for the residents of the city of Springfield and our business community," said Sarno. "Unlike the federal government that doesn't have to balance a budget, I have to make sure my budget is balanced."

    The announcement from the mayor’s office came a day after the Springfield City Council unanimously approved a resolution introduced by Councilor Mike Fenton to support local participation in refugee resettlement efforts.

     "We welcome refugees warmly and kindly, and we support them because that is a part of what it means to be an American and call this place home," said Fenton as he urged fellow-councilors to support the resolution.

          Dozens of people in the council chambers cheered after the unanimous roll-call vote.

     Officials with Jewish Family Services told councilors that the organization last year resettled 79 refugees in Springfield, including 15 school-age children.

    Regulations recently announced by the U.S. State Dept. say that it is the chief executive officer of a municipality who has the authority to opt-in for refugee resettlements.

    After Sarno's announcement, Fenton said it was unfortunate that the City Council is powerless to overrule the mayor’s decision.

    "The important thing is the Springfield City Council has stepped up and recognized the value refugees can bring to our community," Fenton told WAMC.  " The Springfield City Council has unanimously indicated that we support programs that welcome refugees despite the hateful rhetoric that has come from the Trump admininstration on the subject from the very day he first announced his presidential campaign."

    Earlier this year, Sarno and the City Council clashed over an ordinance that designated Springfield as a “welcoming community” for immigrants. It forbid city employees from inquiring about a person’s immigration status.

   The council overrode Sarno’s veto of the ordinance.

    Unlike other Democratic mayors in Massachusetts, Sarno has refused to declare Springfield a “sanctuary city” or safe haven for undocumented immigrants.

    Last year, when a Springfield church took in a Peruvian woman who was at risk of being deported Sarno ordered city inspectors to visit the apartment where the church was providing her sanctuary.

     He also called for a review of the church’s tax exempt status.

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.
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