Immigration has always played a vital role in Vermont’s history. First, a sparse but long-established Native American population was joined by the English – the first European settlers in what became Vermont. Then came Italians, Spaniards, and French Canadians, followed by more recent waves of refugees – Vietnamese, Laotians, Cambodians, Bosnians and Somalis, among others.
These in-migrations haven’t always gone smoothly; many newcomers have faced suspicion, discrimination and exclusion, but on the whole Vermont has lived up to its reputation for inclusion. And today, most of us believe that diversity enriches our civic life.
The new President is taking steps to radically change the country’s approach to refugees and other immigrants, both legal and undocumented. And the Vermont response has been varied – many took to the streets to protest the President’s Executive Order limiting immigration from seven majority-Muslim countries; the Governor has appointed a special commission to explore how best to interact with the federal government; and some towns are considering formal declarations as Sanctuary Cities.
In Putney, a few of us have decided to present a resolution at Town Meeting under the final warning article, “Other business that may legally come before the meeting.” It won’t be binding on the Selectboard to take any particular action, but we hope it will reinforce and document our town’s commitment to welcome immigrants and refugees.
After attending a Putney Selectboard meeting to let the board know of our intention, we decided to present the resolution to voters at our high school district’s annual meeting. In a letter to all staff and families of students in the district, Superintendent Ron Stahley noted the district’s long history of welcoming students of diverse backgrounds, and echoed the Secretary of Education and the Governor in promising a safe and supportive school environment for some of the most vulnerable members of our community.
At the district meeting, after discussion about only two budget items - an allocation for a cheerleading team, and the cost of the Superintendent’s letter, which two voters considered “political” - the budget of more than $25 million was approved by a nearly unanimous voice vote, and voters also approved the resolution we presented.
Our high-school district’s voters are now on record as affirming the district’s commitment to welcome and protect the rights of all students, including refugees and immigrants, and we look forward to the discussion at our Town Meeting.