One piece of the Trump executive order speaks to the issue of whether communities have any say in the refugee placement process

Trump Watch!

There is so much to try to absorb in the President’s Executive Order on refugees, but here is one portion to pay some attention to for those of you working in ‘pockets of resistance.’
It is Section 5 (g):

(g) It is the policy of the executive branch that, to the extent permitted by law and as practicable, State and local jurisdictions be granted a role in the process of determining the placement or settlement in their jurisdictions of aliens eligible to be admitted to the United States as refugees. To that end, the Secretary of Homeland Security shall examine existing law to determine the extent to which, consistent with applicable law, State and local jurisdictions may have greater involvement in the process of determining the placement or resettlement of refugees in their jurisdictions, and shall devise a proposal to lawfully promote such involvement.

Indeed this point, that local communities (and states!) have no say in the refugee resettlement process as it has been done for over 3 decades now is one of my basic complaints for the almost ten years I’ve been writing this blog.

Politico began whining about the Trump Administration giving more leeway to states here already a few days ago;

States and cities will find it easier to turn away even those refugees the Trump administration admits to the U.S. under the executive order issued Friday.


….a less-discussed provision in the order goes further, calling for the secretary of Homeland Security to “devise a proposal” to give state and local governments “greater involvement in the process of determining the placement or resettlement of refugees in their jurisdictions.”

Pro-refugee organizations worry that the provision will create a patchwork of refugee policies across the country and further politicize an already-controversial process.

“It just doesn’t make sense that the federal government would give a foreign-policy decision like that to the states and localities,” said Domenic Powell, an advocacy and policy strategist with the American Civil Liberties Union.

Powell said state and local leaders may cave to political pressure driven by fear of terrorism and “make decisions about refugees based on prejudice.”

Until now, authority to distribute resettlement grants and to place refugees in local communities has resided at the State Department. Trump’s order appears to shift at least some of these responsibilities to the Department of Homeland Security.

It is a good start!
I think it is a great idea for the Administration to study the issue, but it will take longer than a few months to get a full understanding of how communities/state governments have been shut-out while non-profit (non-elected!) federal contractors (like HIAS) have been busy SECRETLY picking new towns in which to place refugees.
I recommend the Administration hold field hearings in towns where controversy has been building about the way refugees are placed.

Trump can get the ball rolling, but ultimately Congress will have to change the law!

And, I’m going to be arguing that scrapping the Refugee Act of 1980 is the way to go, and if Congress and the President want a refugee program of some sort, they can write and sign a new law.

A word of caution about this idea of state (or local) governments deciding whether they will or will not welcome refugees!

Remember, this is America and people here legally can move wherever and whenever they want, and surely all of you would agree we don’t ever want that right taken away!
Therefore, if one state welcomes thousands of refugees, but its neighboring state does not, there is nothing to stop those thousands moving from the welcoming state to the unwelcoming state even within days and weeks of their arrival in the US.
In fact, that is happening all the time as Somalis resettled elsewhere in the country high-tail-it to Minnesota and Ohio as fast as they can to be with their own kind of people!
That is why the issue is much more challenging than it appears on the surface and I believe requires a much longer moratorium—the only thing that might ‘inspire’ a thorough review by Congress.
This post is filed in our Trump Watch! category, here.

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