After Trump rule, Concord must opt-in to accept more refugees

  • From left, Qamar Mohamed, Marie Grace Turabumkiza, and Potri Abhisri Barama, follow along in a book being read by Duncan McDougall, executive director of Children's Literacy Foundation, at the Dame School on Monday afternoon, November 22, 2010. The foundation, a non-profit based in Waterbury Center, Vt., stopped at the school as part of their refugee program. One of several programs put on by the organization, the refugee program provides books to children and has storytelling to promote reading. The organization, which does not receive state or federal funding, visits schools throughout New Hampshire and Vermont functioning on donations. Over the years, the Concord community has taken the initiative to welcome refugees who make their home here in various ways, including an annual multicultural festival and the formation of a “Be the Change” club at the high school. Clockwise from top left: Deepsika Rai, 8, dances through the arms of Gus Kusch, 5, left, and Etta Wobber, also 5, during the 2011 Concord Multicultural Festival; Binita Rai (left) and Rita Rai, sisters from Bhutan, and Ethan LaFrance, work on a banner together during the first “Be the Change” lunch at Concord High School in 2011; Bhola Gautam (left), born in Nepal, talks with Kyle Zollo-Venecek during the 2011 “Be the Change” lunch; Qamar Mohamed, Marie Grace Turabumkiza and Potri Abhisri Barama follow along in a book being read during the Children’s Literacy Foundation’s touring refugee program at Dame School in 2010. The refugee program provides books to children and has storytelling to promote reading. John Tully

Monitor staff
Published: 11/29/2019 4:34:37 PM

For years, Concord has been a state leader in the acceptance of refugees, taking in more than any other New Hampshire city since 2010.

But whether that practice continues will require a sign-off from the city, following a new policy from President Donald Trump.

In an executive order issued in September, Trump required that both states and localities actively approve refugee resettlements moving forward. Without explicit written consent from both the state’s governor and the city or town, new outside refugees may not be housed in those cities, the order states – a change prompting outcry from refugee rights groups.

On Wednesday, Gov. Chris Sununu announced he had given that statewide consent, penning a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo granting permission for New Hampshire to accept refugees broadly. But he left it up to individual municipalities on how to proceed.

“With this action, it is now up to each city’s mayor whether they want to opt-in to accepting refugees,” Sununu said in a statement.

Now, the pressure is on. Cities and towns have until Dec. 20 to submit their letters of approval to accept resettlement of refugees, according to new guidance from the federal Health and Human Services department and the U.S. Secretary of State that follows the executive order. Sometime around Christmas, HHS will release a list of the states and municipalities that have done so, according to the order.

In an interview Friday, Concord Mayor Jim Bouley said he supports resettlement and that he’ll bring the question before the City Council at its Dec. 9 meeting.

“I see no reason why we would not sign it,” he said. “I think this only makes sense. So I look forward with the blessing of the council to sign it.”

The policy change comes as the Trump administration seeks to broadly tighten American refugee resettlement. In early November, the White House announced it would cap the number of new arrivals to 18,000 for the federal fiscal year ending November 2020 – the lowest in the history of the program. That number is down from 30,000 cap set in this past year and the 85,000 limit set during the last year in office of former president Barack Obama.

Yet the numbers of refugees that are ultimately processed and accepted are reportedly far less than the upper limits. While 4,000 Iraqi citizens were approved to enter the country last year, only 465 actually made it in due to increased screening and application processes, Politico reported.

For its part, Concord has recently embraced refugee resettlement.

Between July 2010 and July 2018, the capital city took in 1,292 refugees, according to figures from the state Department of Health and Human Services. That amounts to 41% of all new refugees in the state in that time period, and more than any other city including Manchester, which took in 1,242.

Over the years, Concord, Manchester and Nashua have taken in the bulk of refugee placements. Nashua took in 622 over those eight years, in contrast with Laconia, which accepted 15, and Franklin, which has resettled only one person, in 2011.

But despite evidence of rising numbers of people fleeing conflicts in Northern Africa, Syria and Iraq, the recent reductions from Washington have slowed the pace of acceptance and resettlement – including in New Hampshire. DHHS data show a steady decline in new arrivals to the Granite State, from a high of 522 in Fiscal Year 2011 to last fiscal year’s low of 162.

Last year, Concord’s total dropped to 57 from a high of 206 over that same period.

Typically, New Hampshire refugees are resettled by agencies such as the International Institute of New Hampshire in Manchester, New Hampshire Catholic Charities in Manchester and the Interfaith Refugee Resettlement Program in Concord.

But on Wednesday, Sununu said the state would be supportive of the placements as well.

“We will work closely with area agencies to ensure those who are resettled in New Hampshire have the opportunity to become hardworking members of our local communities,” he said.

Meanwhile, as states and cities begin responding to the late December deadline, aspects of the new rule are in flux. Some refugee advocacy groups have called the executive order illegal, with the national Catholic Legal Immigration Network arguing it contravenes federal law giving the Office of Refugee Resettlement the authority to place refugees.

And the rules are silent on whether approval is necessary from select boards or city councils – or whether mayors can signal approval on their own prerogatives.

That uncertainty is creating some delays. Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig is supportive of continuing the acceptance of refugees, her office said Friday, but is seeking clarity on whether that move needs sign-off from the Queen City’s full city council.

“The refugee resettlement program has had a long history in Manchester, thanks to widespread community support,” Craig said in a statement. “Our different cultures, religions and life experiences are what inspires creativity, drives innovation and makes our city great.”

Bouley said while it is unclear whether Concord City Council approval is needed, he would float the question at the Dec. 9 meeting anyway in order to have full support. Still, he expressed confidence in its approval.

“We have traditionally been a refugee settlement community,” he said.

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