Editorial: Rutland Offers Refuge

Published: 5/4/2016 10:00:01 PM
Modified: 5/4/2016 10:00:07 PM

Rutland’s offer to resettle in the city 100 refugees from war-torn Syria displays pragmatic idealism in the finest American tradition, while paying homage to the community’s own rich history.

 Mayor Chris Louras made reference to that tradition at a news conference last week announcing the initiative: “As a community whose forefathers, including my own grandfather, came here to escape poverty and persecution, we have a unique opportunity to repeat our storied history. Just as our grandparents and great-grandparents were welcomed to Rutland in the late 1800s, early 1900s and during the World War II era, we will welcome new families facing peril.” Indeed, a Rutland Herald story noted that Greek, Irish, Italian and Welsh immigrants all played their part in weaving the fabric of the city’s life. In interviews, some of their descendants applauded the city’s efforts to afford new arrivals from overseas with the same opportunity. 

The new refugees, mostly families with children, will begin arriving in October, making Rutland the state’s first relocation community for Syrians fleeing that country’s brutal civil war. Federal funding will assist the refugees initially, and government officials will help them secure housing, employment, schooling and other necessities. All those are readily available in Rutland, said Amila Merdzanovic, director of the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program. And she noted that among refugees, 85 percent of all employable adults are self-sufficient within eight months of resettlement in the United States.

Of course, the striving, hard-driving, upwardly mobile immigrant was for many years an integral part of the American success story. Now that a wave of politically stoked fear and nativism threatens to cut short that national narrative, it is heartening that communities such as Rutland are instead ready to write a new chapter. It is in their enlightened self-interest to do so, as the board of the Rutland Region Chamber of Commerce recognized in embracing the city’s efforts to take in the Syrian refugees. In a letter to the Herald, the Chamber noted that immigrants long contributed to the economic vitality of the region, but that in recent decades Rutland County’s population has steadily declined, with young people and businesses moving away. “We know we need to change to begin rebuilding our population,” the board wrote. “We cannot change — and at the same time keep things the same.”

This sentiment was echoed by community leaders such as Carol Tashie, a farmer, who in stating the obvious said something that badly needs to be heard by a wider audience in these times: “As much as we will be helping these refugees, their presence will benefit the entire region by adding to the flavor and energy of our neighborhoods and stoking our economic engines.”

Louras is not underestimating the difficulties of the course on which the city has embarked. The mayor acknowledges that some residents may fear losing their jobs to the immigrants or that the refugees may include some with links to terrorism — although he and others have taken pains to point out that the years-long federal screening process is rigorous. (There never has been a terrorist act committed in the United States by a resettled refugee, according to the Migration Policy Institute, a Washington think tank.)

“There’s a clear understanding that this is not going to be easy,” Louras said. “This could well be downright hard. However, when given a choice between an easier wrong and a harder right, always choose the harder rights, and this is the right thing to do for the community.” We congratulate him and the Rutland community for having the courage of their convictions. It’s the kind of thing that could make America great again.  



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