Ruling means city can’t deny refugees over mayor’s objection
BOSTON (AP) — Refugees will continue to be placed in a Massachusetts city where the mayor is strongly opposed to the newcomers after a federal judge ruled Wednesday that local governments can’t be granted “veto power” over the resettlement process, a refugee resettlement agency said Wednesday.
Maxine Stein, president of Jewish Family Service of Western Massachusetts, one of the state’s largest refugee service providers, said her agency will also continue to seek an audience with Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno to try and address his concerns.
The Democrat, a longtime critic of refugee resettlement, publicly declared that his city of roughly 155,000 residents located near the Connecticut state line would no longer accept refugees as part of President Donald Trump’s executive order giving state and local governments a say in whether refugees could be resettled in their communities.
On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Peter Messitte in Maryland temporarily blocked the order, which required resettlement agencies get written consent from officials in any jurisdiction where they want to resettle refugees beyond June 2020.
“We’re looking at this as an opportunity to re-establish relations and find a way to work better together,” Stein said. “We don’t know how this story will end, so we’re taking this time to educate people. We don’t think it hurts to do that.”
Sarno’s office didn’t respond to an email seeking comment Wednesday.
His rejection of refugees sparked outcry from local faith leaders and other city officials in recent weeks. It also came in contrast to Republican Governor Charlie Baker, who said in a letter to federal officials last month that Massachusetts would continue to welcome refugees.
Sarno argued in a letter to the editor last month that Springfield has done its “fair share” supporting refugees over the years, and suggested the newcomers are straining the city’s resources.
Sarno wrote in his letter that “this issue taxes our city and school services.”
“It’s time for other much more affluent communities to take on their fair share,” the letter reads.
Springfield has a long history of immigration and is now majority Latino and black. More than 20 refugees have been placed there in the current federal fiscal year, which began Oct. 1, according to Stein.
About 90 refugees were placed in the city last fiscal year, up from 66 the prior fiscal year but down from more than 150 in fiscal 2017, she said.