Vermont’s Dirty Secret

Rutland residents demand answers after mayor unilaterally allows 100 Syrian 'refugees' into city

by Kathryn Blackhurst | Updated 30 May 2016 at 7:35 AM

One Vermont city is struggling to come to terms with the 100 Syrian and Iraqi refugees that will begin flooding its streets this fall after its mayor made the announcement last month.

“The city is not just gonna roll over and take this without asking the hard questions, without holding people accountable and making them put forth the answers and making a plan.”

Rutland Mayor Christopher Louras left more questions than answers after he announced his decision to work with the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program to choose Rutland as one of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants’ locations last month. Once a city is selected for resettlement, it can submit a request to the State Department for federal funding up to $2,000 per refugee, as well as additional requests for federal grants.

“This community is at a time in its history when we must seize the opportunity to welcome the next generation of new Americans escaping a desperate situation of war and chaos,” Louras said during a city hall press conference last month. “Do not give in to your fears. The fact is that the security measures in place will not put this community at risk.”

Since 1989, Vermont has opened its doors to roughly 8,000 refugees — although this new proposal marks the first time that Rutland will welcome Syrian refugees, according to WCAX-TV.

But some Rutland citizens expressed their concern and outrage following the resettlement announcement, saying they had not been given sufficient information about the plan’s components or a chance to protest the proceedings before they took place.

“The city is not just gonna roll over and take this without asking the hard questions, without holding people accountable and making them put forth the answers and making a plan and let the community know what’s going on,” Matt Howland, a Rutland resident who protested the resettlement plan following a meeting Louras held earlier in May, told mychamplainvalley.com.

Resident Bill Jalbert also voiced his concerns with the resettlement plan, pointing out that Rutland — as well as the state of Vermont — has its own current residents to consider.

“I personally am not against helping the refugees — I just think we have a lot of people in the state that we need to help before we help the refugees.”

“A lot of people are not against helping the refugees. I personally am not against helping the refugees — I just think we have a lot of people in the state that we need to help before we help the refugees,” Jalbert told mychamplainvalley.com.

Specific details remain murky as the city’s officials declined to reveal just how much the resettlement plan will cost residents. The officials only indicated that most of the project’s funding will come through the federal government’s resources, alongside additional funding from private donors and the state, WCAX noted.

But the VRRP did not disclose Rutland’s proposed resettlement plan to the public — including which amenities refugees may have access to, such as subsidized housing, mental health facilities, and public schools. Rutland residents also do not know how long the refugees will be housed and provided for in their city, as well as the tolls the resettlement program will take on the city’s economy and resources.

Despite these concerns and questions, Louras remains undeterred in his optimism and enthusiasm for the project, adding that he looks forward to welcoming “people who, like 100 years ago, will grow our population, our economy, and, most importantly, provide the cultural enrichment that we so desperately need.”

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