Earlier this week Mayor Christopher Louras announced the city of Rutland will take in 100 Syrian refugees starting in October. Louras says he’s been working closely with state and federal refugee agencies to create Vermont’s first relocation community for Syrians.
But local lawmakers and residents in Rutland are saying they didn't even know about the plan before it was announced this week.
Mayor Louras spoke with VPR about the resettlement plan and how it came to be.
Rutland is not one of Vermont's traditional resettlement cities. Louras says the national conversation late last year inspired the plan.
"Frankly it started with the conversation at the national level around the Syrian refugee resettlement. The fact that a number of governors said they weren't going to open their doors , and Gov. Shumlin said he wanted to open our doors to Syrian refugees," said Louras. "It got me thinking that the city of Rutland is right for refugee resettlement. Our population has been declining; we have a lot of capacity for jobs and housing, and this is an opportunity to grow our community culturally and provide a level of diversity in the community that we really, really need."
On who was involved in the decision:
"There was no public vote when there was a large influx [of immigrants] at the turn of the century," said Louras. "It just simply is not part of who we have been in Rutland."
"I was fortunate enough to have a very long conference call with two individuals at the highest level department of state and department of homeland security to discuss the security measures that are in place," explained Louras. "And then I followed up those conversations with individuals I know at high levels of law enforcement. I can assure the residents of Rutland that there is no [safety] risk from Syrian refugees."
On how Rutland will afford to support the resettlement of these refugees:
Some of the criticism the idea has received on social media centers around the idea that Rutland already has enough challenges it needs to focus on, including the heroin epidemic. Louras says the city has a handle on the crisis:
"Rutland more than any other community in the state has addressed its opiate epidemic," Louras says, "and we have turned our community around and are seeing verifiable outcomes that reflect our quality of life is at the highest level it's been."
On what services will be made available to support the resettlement process:
"The jobs capacity has been thoroughly reviewed and we have the entry level jobs positions available, and our employers are begging for people to fill those positions," said Louras. "On the English language capacity side: one of the very first people I spoke to was Mary Moran, our school superintendent. And she said she had some [English Language Learner] capacity."
"There's no cost at the local level, there's not going to be any impact to our tax base," said Louras. "When refugees initially come to any community, they are given $925 for each person in the household, and then there's no further funds from the Department of State after that. So Vermont Resettlement Program does one thing very very well: they ensure that their clients become self-sufficient within four to eight months."
On the idea Rutland could be receiving money for taking in refugees:
"That is a ridiculously false narrative," said Louras. "Not only are people saying Rutland will stand to see a windfall, there are individuals who are even saying that I'm going to see a personal windfall. It frankly speaks to the misinformation...that individuals who are fearful of this community will point to to try to distract from their fears."