This is an Associated Press story that ran on Christmas day so not sure how many of you saw it.
For background, Montana had a small refugee program many years ago, but up until this year it was alone with Wyoming in not having one at all. That changed in 2016 as Missoula ‘welcomed’ its first African and Middle Eastern refugees. I traveled to the state this summer and can attest to the sentiment outlined in this story.
For new readers you might like to see our Montana archive, here.
S.K. Rossi, advocacy and policy director for the ACLU of Montana: “It’s pretty widely known that this is going to be a hard year…”
From AP at The Seattle Times:
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — The push to restrict refugee resettlements and immigration in the U.S. that figured so prominently in Donald Trump’s election is now headed to states that are preparing to convene their legislative sessions early next year, immigration advocates said.
In Montana, which took in just nine refugee families from January to early December, about a dozen bill requests related to refugees, immigration and terrorism have been filed ahead of next month’s session. The measures include requiring resettlement agencies to carry insurance that would defray the cost of prosecuting refugees who commit violent crimes and allowing towns and cities to request a moratorium on resettlements in their communities.
Refugee rights advocates say those measures are a sign of what is to come as the anti-refugee rhetoric that featured prominently in the presidential election spills over to statehouses and local governments.
“It’s pretty widely known that this is going to be a hard year for those of us who are seeking to protect the rights of refugees and immigrants,” said S.K. Rossi, advocacy and policy director for the ACLU of Montana.
The president-elect campaigned on building a border wall with Mexico to stop illegal immigration, deporting immigrants who are in the nation illegally and halting the resettlement of refugees to strengthen the federal program that vets them.
“It absolutely does not end with the presidential election,” McKenzie [Michele McKenzie, deputy director of the Minneapolis organization The Advocates for Human Rights] said. “It’s a national strategy by a small but organized group of anti-immigration advocates and anti-refugee advocates.”
“We need to get serious,” said Nancy Ballance, a Republican state representative from Ravalli County.
Ballance said refugees are a “gigantic issue” in her southwestern Montana county, just south of the liberal college city of Missoula. “People expect to see some legislation brought,” she said.
It is pretty clear that legally state legislators can’t do much to change the US Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP), but here we have the ACLU lobbyist making the crucial point about efforts in the Montana (yours too!) legislature.
“Filing this and making it a public conversation automatically undermines the refugee process,” Rossi said.
“They can’t legally undermine the process, but they can socially undermine the process.”
You have a right to ask questions and demand that your elected officials at all levels of government be transparent, and consider your economic worries and your safety concerns when the federal government targets your communities.
Efforts like these in the Montana legislature are important to help create controversy because the ultimate goal is for the controversy to ‘trickle up’ to Congress and to the new Trump Administration. There is no doubt that the USRAP must be trashed or reformed, but that pressure must come from the states (and local governments) to Washington. Politicians hate noise and so it is your job as grassroots activists to make political noise!
To that end, since Montana’s lone House member is likely going to the Trump Interior Department, it is critical that you, in Montana, make the selection of his replacement a referendum on the refugee program. See The Hill (scroll down to Rep. Zinke).
Endnote: I am off to jury duty, be back later!