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Vermont GOP governor affirms refugee welcome, seeks more

  • FILE - In this Jan. 27, 2017, file photo, kindergarten teacher Susan Cody, left, shows newly arrived Syrian refugee Dania Khatib around a classroom as her mother Mahasen Boshnaq, center rear, and father Ahmed Khatib, right, watch at the Northwest Primary School in Rutland, Vt. The parents fled Syria in 2012 and the family lived in Turkey until they arrived in Rutland. In a Jan. 6, 2020, letter to President Donald Trump, Vermont Republican Gov. Phil Scott reaffirmed the state's commitment to accept refugees from across the world. (AP Photo/Lisa Rathke, File) AP file photographs

  • FILE - In this Aug. 5, 2019 file photo, Hussam Alhallak holds a bottle for his son, Danyal, who was born in the United States, in the family's apartment in Rutland, Vt. Alhallak, his wife and their two older children fled the war in Syrian in 2015 and are rebuilding a life for themselves in Vermont. In a Jan. 6, 2020, letter to President Donald Trump, Vermont Republican Gov. Phil Scott reaffirmed the state's commitment to accept refugees from across the world. (AP Photo/Lisa Rathke, File)

Associated Press
Published: 1/10/2020 10:22:56 PM
Modified: 1/10/2020 10:22:16 PM

MONTPELIER — Vermont’s Republican governor has reaffirmed the state’s commitment to accepting refugees from across the world and says he would like to return the number of people arriving in the state to the levels before President Donald Trump took office.

In a letter to the president and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Gov. Phil Scott said the state has welcomed almost 8,000 refugees since 1989 and that before Trump took office, the state was accepting about 325 to 350 a year.

In fiscal year 2019, Vermont took in 115 refugees, said Amila Merdzanovic, of the Vermont office of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants.

“Vermont’s refugee communities have made countless contributions to our state,” said Scott’s letter to the president, which was dated Monday and released by the governor’s office to those who asked for it. “Refugees help ensure a healthy sized and diverse student population. They help employers fill open positions, contributing to the community and local economy, and pay federal, state and local taxes.”

Scott sent the letter in response to an executive order signed by the president in September that requires governors to publicly say they will accept refugees. Trump also slashed the number of refugees allowed into the United States in 2020 to a historic low of 18,000, part of the administration’s efforts to reduce both legal and illegal immigration.

Under the terms of the president’s order, refugees cannot automatically come to the states without gubernatorial approval, even if cities and counties welcome them.

The governors have a Jan. 21 deadline so resettlement agencies can secure federal funding in time to plan where to place refugees. At least 41 states have publicly agreed to accept refugees, but a governor’s decision doesn’t preclude local officials from refusing to give their consent.

Meanwhile, a federal judge in Maryland is weighing whether to block the president’s executive order.

Before Trump took office in 2017, there were plans to resettle about 100 refugees from Syria and Iraq in the Rutland area, But only three families arrived before Trump imposed a ban on travelers from certain majority-Muslim countries. The three Syrian families are said to be settling in well.

“Vermont has never conditioned and will never condition refugee resettlement on a refugee’s race, ethnicity, religion or national origin,” Scott wrote.

Vermont has been one of the most welcoming resettlement states, Merdzanovic said.

“It is so vital to what Vermonters are all about, being welcoming and inclusive,” she said.

Scott wrote that the refugees who arrived in Vermont were primarily from Bhutan, Burma, Bosnia, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan and Vietnam.

Scott said an average of 90% to 94% of the refugees arriving in Vermont have become economically self-sufficient within eight months of arriving. For fiscal year 2019, the figure was 100%, he wrote.

The arrival of the refugees is “one tool in our toolbox” that Vermont is using to help grow the state’s workforce and attract more workers, the governor wrote.

“To the extent other states may not consent to resettle refugees, I hope refugees will consider Vermont a welcoming place that can meet their needs,” Scott wrote.

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