Feds coached mayor to keep town in dark on plan to resettle Syrian refugees

by WorldTribune Staff, October 9, 2016

The mayor of Rutland, Vermont went to great lengths to conceal a plan to resettle 100 Syrian refugees in the town after a federal contractor had warned against making the plan public, according to recently-released documents.

Mayor Christopher Louras and resettlement organizations “shrouded the plan in such secrecy that not even the town’s aldermen were informed of what was taking place behind closed doors,” Judicial Watch reported on Oct. 7.

Rutland, Vermont Mayor Christopher Louras. /Tim Henderson/The Pew Charitable Trusts)
Rutland, Vermont Mayor Christopher Louras. / Tim Henderson / The Pew Charitable Trusts

“The aldermen eventually wrote to the U.S. Department of State protesting the plan and opened an investigation into the mayor’s actions. The State Department has not yet ruled on whether it will resettle refugees in Rutland despite the aldermens’ protest.”

Among the 128 pages of documents obtained from Rutland by Judicial Watch is an April 14 email from Amila Merdzanovic, executive director of the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program, to Louras, in which she wrote:

“I want to share with you the concern my HQ has about holding a public forum. If we open it up to anybody and everybody, all sorts of people will come out of woodwork. Anti-immigrant, anti-anything. They suggest that the forum be invite only but make it as wide as possible. Work with faith leaders, United Way, etc… Perhaps, we could go back to the Congregational Church and continue the conversation there.”

On April 10, Merdzanovic had written to the director of the State Refugee Office about her coordination with the mayor to keep the resettlement program secret:

“He did share with me that the Governor’s office called him after getting a frantic call from DOL [Vermont Department of Labor] inquiring about the plan to resettle ‘100 Syrians in the next month’ in Rutland.  Again, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of not sharing the information even if it is confidentially. Please respect our process, you will have plenty of opportunity to share and take action once we have met with the stakeholders. At that point we can and will share it widely. It will not serve any one of us well if the community in Rutland learned about it through the grapevine and not directly from us. The above example shows that what people hear and how they interpret it is two different things.”

The U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, a nonprofit based in Virginia, is the parent organization of the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program working with the mayor’s office.

Judicial Watch received the documents in response to a Vermont Public Records Law request to Louras’s office.

The documents contain detailed discussions of what Rutland will need to provide for the refugees – including housing, jobs, medical care, and places for worship.

A May 3 document shows Hal Cohen, secretary of the agency for human services, introducing a meeting: “Vermont gains from diversity – new ideas, delicious food (laughs) …”

A set of April meeting notes by the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program and the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants stated: “Refugees can bring global perspectives and expertise … direct knowledge about history and world events (unfiltered by media) … synergize energy & momentum with youth.”

Merdzanovic later told the Boston Globe that the hidden talks were “the right thing to do — to move slowly, keep it to a small circle of people, and then expand.”

Judicial Watch said it is investigating the Obama administration’s Refugee and Resettlement program, “which plans to bring an additional 10,000 Syrian refugees to the United States in 2016, and even more in 2017.”

President Barack Obama “is pressing ahead with his plan even though 129 people were killed and 350 were wounded by Syrian-trained terrorists recently in Paris.  The Obama administration is working in conjunction with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to settle these individuals all across the U.S.  The federal government contracts with non-profits and other entities to settle and provide financial payments to refugees.”

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