MONTPELIER, Vt. — The U.S. Department of State confirmed on Wednesday it had approved a plan to bring up to 100 refugees from war-torn Syria and Iraq to the southern Vermont city of Rutland.
The director of the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program, Amila Merdzanovic, wrote an email to Rutland’s mayor and state officials “to share the news that the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants proposal to resettle refugees in Rutland, Vermont, has been accepted.”
“We look forward to working with you to welcome those fleeing war and persecution who are unable to return to what was once home,” she added.
A Department of State spokeswoman later confirmed the announcement and provided a statement from Larry Bartlett, director of its Office of Refugee Admissions, Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration.
“In cities and towns across the United States, refugees have become a part of the fabric of our multicultural society,” Bartlett said. “American communities are eager to provide opportunities to families in need, but long term we see that refugees bring significant economic benefit, opening businesses, serving as volunteers, and enriching the cultural landscape.”
The plan to bring the refugees to Rutland has split Vermont’s third largest city. Mayor Christopher Louras, an independent, has argued that the influx of new residents will boost an ailing local economy.
“I’m happy the Department of State has the faith in these communities (to welcome) those fleeing for their lives and looking to rebuild their lives,” said Louras, whose grandfather emigrated from Greece in 1906, fleeing the Ottoman Turks.
But critics, including City Treasurer Wendy Wilton, a former Republican state senator, say it will be difficult for a city of fewer than 17,000 residents to absorb 100 newcomers from a different language and culture.
Wilton said her concerns were three: not enough transparency and public involvement before Louras in April announced his decision to apply to the Department of State to receive the refugees; her view that the “scale is wrong,” that larger cities were taking in fewer people proportionally; and tax increases likely to result from new demands on schools and other public services.
Louras also has received significant opposition from other city residents and from the Board of Aldermen, which produced a letter opposing the mayor’s plan in July.
The debate in Rutland has reflected that nationwide, with most Republican governors and the GOP presidential candidates arguing that the government lacked an adequate screening system to prevent suspected terrorists from slipping into the U.S. and supporters of admitting the refugees saying those concerns are overstated.
President Barack Obama, a Democrat, had pushed for the United States to admit at least 10,000 Syrian refugees by the end of the federal fiscal year Sept. 30, in part to give the U.S. leverage in asking other countries to do the same. The president’s goal was reached by the end of August, the Department of State spokeswoman said.