LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Wyoming needs a plan for refugees

By on March 18, 2014

JACKSON, WYO – From Gov. Matt Mead

There have been recent discussions about refugees coming to Wyoming. It is an important issue as refugees are coming now and have been coming to Wyoming with our state having no plan or say on the matter. Questions of what, if any, resources are being used and how they are used remain unanswered. We are the only state in the country without a plan or process.

So it is clear – refugees are people who are in the United States legally after being vetted by the Office of Homeland Security and others. The program started following World War II to address a number of Europeans who were displaced by the war. Sadly, conditions exist in places around the globe where people are faced with hardships so severe that they must flee their homes in order to be safe. These men, women and children are fleeing persecution, torture, violence and war. There is understandable sympathy for these people. The United States has set standards to evaluate the conditions that qualify a person for refugee status.

As refugees have been coming to Wyoming – without a plan or program – I felt it important to learn more about what is done in Wyoming. The United States accommodates a relatively small number of people from around the world when refuge is needed. Most refugees choose to stay in our nation’s larger cities. A small number are choosing a rural state like Wyoming. It is a responsibility to our taxpayers to know, as refugees come to Wyoming, what is the impact.

With or without a program, the issue is real – this is already evident in some of our Wyoming communities as refugees find their way to our state. Local churches – places where people are called to serve those most in need – are the first point of contact.

They offer basic assistance to secure housing, clothing and employment. An outstanding positive example of a refugee is a man in Gillette who has married, raised a family, is involved in church and the community, and coaches youth soccer. There are also examples where it has not worked. Not having a plan does not address either situation, good or bad.

Some people are concerned about this effort, worrying that Wyoming is “recruiting” refugees. There is no recruitment, there is, however, an effort to understand the issue. Right now, our state is learning more on the issue. Working with many volunteers – students at the University of Wyoming College of Law, nonprofit agencies and churches, we are trying to understand and evaluate options for a Wyoming plan. The work is just beginning, and when we have heard from people across the state, I will evaluate the plan to see if it adequately addresses Wyoming resources and our core values.

Wyoming people will be given the opportunity to contribute to and comment on the plan as it is developed. I welcome the participation of all citizens. For those few who have commented they do not want any refugees in Wyoming, I reiterate refugees are already here. I believe Wyoming should have a say in how this process works.


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