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Refugee order appreciated, state advocates say

Hutchinson opts to accept refugees after Trump order by Doug Thompson | December 25, 2019 at 9:31 a.m.
Governor Asa Hutchinson takes questions from reporters at his office in the state capitol in Little Rock.

FAYETTEVILLE -- A leader with Canopy Northwest Arkansas on Tuesday welcomed Gov. Asa Hutchinson's executive order that Arkansas will continue to accept legally immigrating refugee families.

"I don't want to make it more than it is, which is that we will continue to do what we are doing, but we appreciate the governor's support," said Clint Schnekloth, chairman of the board of Canopy, a refugee assistance nonprofit group.

An executive order from President Donald Trump allows states to refuse further refugees. The U.S. Department of State coordinates refugee relocation with nine charitable organizations through agreements with the government. The Northwest Arkansas group worked with two of those nine groups -- Catholic Charities Immigration Services and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service -- to get the region accepted in 2016 as a refugee resettlement site.

The U.S. Refugee Admissions Program screens and assists those fleeing political or religious persecution, according to the program's website. At its height, Canopy took about 50 refugees through the program and provided assistance to another 25 legal immigrant families in one year, Schnekloth said.

Administration policies are sharply curtailing admissions nationwide, he said, so the group doesn't have a solid estimate of how many immigrants it will assist in the upcoming year, he said.

"Previously, there was no coordination with the state and little awareness," Hutchinson said in a statement Tuesday. "Under the new executive order, the state will have more visibility. The approval will need to be each year, and the state will be able to assure the refugees are assimilating into the community and have access to jobs, education and job training. I have confidence that local communities will provide the support necessary, but we will be able to monitor."

States have until Jan. 21 to declare whether they will allow placement of refugee families through the federal admissions program under the executive order. More than 30 governors have agreed to accept refugees, according to The Associated Press.

Trump's executive order requires governors to publicly say that they will accept refugees. Refugees cannot just go to their states, even if cities and counties welcome them. So far, no one has opted to shut out refugees.

Trump issued the order in September after cutting the number of refugees allowed into the United States in 2020 to a historic low of 18,000. The reduction is part of the administration's efforts to reduce both legal and illegal immigration.

Trump says his administration acted to respect communities that believe they do not have enough jobs to support refugees. Refugees can move anywhere in the U.S. after their initial resettlement at their own expense.

Schnekloth said the Canopy group appreciates the degree of support and clarity in Hutchinson's decision to beat the deadline by a month and to reiterate the importance of helping legal refugees. The governor announced his decision Monday in a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

"While we fully support control of our borders and oppose illegal immigration, we also value the contribution of immigrants and understand the importance of America continuing to be a welcoming nation for those truly seeking refuge and following the legal path to our land," reads Hutchinson's letter to the secretary.

"To that end, I have received confirmation from local municipalities, members of the faith-based community, as well as members of the nonprofit community, confirming they will coordinate support and facilitate employment opportunities for refugees that are approved for relocation to Arkansas," the letter says.

Hutchinson is a former deputy director of the federal Department of Homeland Security who opposed a possible large-scale relocation of Syrian refugees to Arkansas in 2016, at the height of the civil war in that country. He cited security concerns at the time.

The family-by-family relocation by the admissions program is not the same, and recent efforts by the administration "enhancing security checks to ensure proper screenings are carried out" in the program are appreciated, the governor's letter says.

In all, there are 18 steps a refugee must go through before admission to the U.S., according to State Department procedures.

Metro on 12/25/2019

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