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On refugee resettlement, Maine’s county governments, not Gov. Mills, can have final say

AUGUSTA – Governor Janet Mills may have signed a letter asking for Maine to participate in the federal government’s refugee resettlement program, but that may not be the last word on the matter in Maine.

The executive order from President Trump that Governor Mills responded to in her refugee resettlement letter also gives county (or county equivalent) level government leaders around the nation the authority to consent or to deny consent to federal refugee resettlement in their respective counties.

Already, several counties around the nation, including counties in Minnesota, North Dakota and Virginia, have voted to deny refugee placements in their localities.

The Democrat Mayor of Springfield, MA, has also said he will not consent to refugee resettlement in his city. Mayor Domenic Sarno says that consenting to any more refugee placements puts too great a burden on his city.

According to the National League of Cities, the nine refugee resettlement agencies around the country are tasked with acquiring written consent from a state’s governor and the local government (county or county equivalent) to accept refugees in the local area they govern.

The consent is tied to funding provided for fiscal year 2020 for the work of those refugee resettlement agencies.

The current listing of consent documents posted at the United States Department of State shows that Governor Janet Mills, but no other Maine county or local governments, have provided their consent.

A review of county commissioner minutes from Maine’s sixteen county commissions show no authorizations of refugee resettlement as of January 12, 2020. None of the published agendas of upcoming meetings show the issue of refugee resettlement consent being brought up for consideration.

There are currently legal challenges to the executive order in the courts, and the outcome of those challenges is unknown at this time.

Section 2b of President Trump’s Executive Order “Enhancing State and Local Involvement in Refugee Resettlement outlines a process in which both a state’s Governor and the county (or county equivalent) government must consent to refugee resettlement before the State Department will place refugees in that locality.

There are, however, provisions within Section 2b of the executive order that allow the Secretary of State to authorize placement of refugees in a locality that has not provided consent based on certain economic and education provisions included in 8 U.S.C. 1522(a)(2)(B) and (C) or other applicable law.

Those exceptions may be the basis on which some local governments have felt compelled to speak out and deny consent, rather than simply allow their silence to deny consent as the executive order is written.

Groups such as Justice for Immigrants, some church affiliated groups, the International Refugee Assistance Project, Amnesty International and others have launched legal challenges and efforts around the country to pressure governors and some local officials to submit their consent under the executive order.

Although the executive order specifically says county or county equivalent governments must consent for refugee placements to occur, the official listing of federal consent documents show some cities, including those in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Virginia have also submitted their consent.

The executive order and supporting documents do not provide for a specific deadline, but it is accepted that consent forms would need to be received by the end of January to allow for the requisite planning and work for refugee placements in the coming year.

The Trump administration has reduced the number of refugees that will be accepted across the United States in the coming year, but says the executive order ensures that refugees are placed in areas where the state and community are prepared and welcoming to refugees. Some counties that have chosen not to consent to refugee placement have said they simply do not have the financial means and infrastructure to assist more refugees.

The executive order and powers of county government are limited to the federal refugee resettlement program and do not apply to asylum seekers and other immigration programs. Authorities stress that while local governments may deny consent for refugee resettlement in their locality, once refugees are placed anywhere in the nation, they are free to move where they wish.

To monitor the meetings of your county commissioners, Maine Examiner is providing basic information for each of Maine’s sixteen county commissions below.

Androscoggin County Commissioners (Next Meeting January 22nd)
https://www.androscoggincountymaine.gov/Commissioners/Commissioners_Office.htm

Aroostook County Commissioners (Next Meeting February 19th)
https://www.aroostook.me.us/appointed-elected/commissioners.html

Cumberland County Commissioners (Next Meeting January 13th) https://www.cumberlandcounty.org/241/County-Commissioners

Franklin County Commissioners (1st and 3rd Tuesday of every month)
https://www.franklincounty.maine.gov/commissioners

Hancock County Commissioners (1st and 3rd Tuesday of every month)
https://co.hancock.me.us/site/index.php/county-departments/hc-commissioners

Kennebec County Commissioners (Next Meeting January 21st)
https://kennebeccounty.org/commissioners/

Knox County Commissioners
https://www.knoxcountymaine.gov/index.asp?Type=B_DIR&SEC={323037CC-5AFE-47CF-BF19-F4F48E932A07}

Lincoln County Commissioners (1st and 3rd Tuesday of every month)
https://www.lincolncountymaine.me/county-commissioners

Oxford County Commissioners
https://www.oxfordcounty.org/oxford-county-commissioners

Penobscot County Commissioners (Next Meeting January 14th)
https://www.penobscot-county.net/commissioners

Piscataquis County Commissioners
https://www.piscataquis.us/county-commissioners-home

Sagadahoc County Commissioners (Next Meeting January 14th)
http://sagcounty.com/commissioners/

Somerset County Commissioners (1st and 3rd Wednesday of every month)
https://www.somersetcounty-me.org/county-commissioner.html

Waldo County Commissioners  (Next Meeting January 17th)
https://www.waldocountyme.gov/commissioners-office/

Washington County Commissioners (2nd Thursday of month)
https://www.washingtoncountymaine.com/index.php/county-government/commissioners

York County Commissioners (Next Meeting January 15th)
https://www.yorkcountymaine.gov/county-commissioners

Read President Trump’s executive order:

https://www.whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions/executive-order-enhancing-state-local-involvement-refugee-resettlement/

Monitor the U.S. State Department’s Listing of Consent Documents for Executive Order 13888 here:

https://www.state.gov/state-and-local-consents-under-executive-order-13888/

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