Summit County Council pens a letter to Pompeo welcoming refugee resettlement
In October, the United States did not resettle any refugees, according to data from the U.S. Department of State.
It’s the first time that’s happened in nearly 30 years, according to a nonprofit that tracks refugee resettlement, as far back as its records go. It comes in the midst of a Trump administration push to limit both legal and illegal immigration.
Last week, the Summit County Council sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Micheal Pompeo advising him that it would be willing to work with agencies and charities to resettle refugees into the county.
“Historically, the United States has served as refuge for human beings from other countries who are fleeing persecution and violence due to their race, religion, nationality, and political beliefs,” the letter states. “The Summit County Council believes that the United States, as the greatest nation in the world, has a moral imperative to offer safe haven to individuals and families in desperate need of protection.”
The letter is nonbinding, and was approved unanimously. Though signed by Chair Doug Clyde, it was written by the former chair, Roger Armstrong, and drew the support of all of the councilors.
It’s not clear what impact, if any, the letter will have.
In a December County Council meeting where Armstrong introduced the idea to gauge the council’s interest, Councilor Kim Carson expressed hesitation.
“I don’t know what that means for us and what resources we have to support them,” she said. “In general, of course I support it.”
Armstrong said at the time that he was told the odds were low that the county would actually receive any refugees, based on the area’s high cost of living and limited available housing resources.
He elaborated on that in last week’s meeting, recounting a conversation he’d had with Asha Parekh, the director of the Utah Refugee Services Office, about the mechanics of resettlement and what the county was agreeing to in the letter.
“She said that, essentially, that given our location, given the housing issue that we have and other challenges that we have here, that we’re probably not extremely high on the list of refugee resettlement,” Armstrong said. “But if the need arose, Summit County would be contacted and a discussion would ensue about who, from where, for what purpose, what the needs would be.”
The Trump administration has lowered the cap on the number of refugees the country will accept several times. It has proposed limiting that number to 18,000 in fiscal year 2020, down from 30,000 in 2019 and 85,000 in 2016.
According to the county’s letter, the U.S. refugee admissions goal has, on average, exceeded 95,000 annually since 1980.
Armstrong said the issue gained particular importance to him after a trip to Guatemala, which he said is teetering on lawlessness and where gang problems and gun violence are beyond the capacity of local law enforcement to control.
“When you see the people living in those conditions and you hear about people that are living under threat of death, or political persecution or religious persecution in those countries, seeking refuge with countries that are more stable, whether it’s the United States or other Western countries, it seems that now is probably not the right time for us to withdraw from the world stage in that regard,” Armstrong said.
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