Church World Service is leading a local effort to get ahead of a federal executive order requiring state and local governments to “opt-in” and allow initial refugee resettlements within their borders.
The nonprofit has reached out to at least five Lancaster County municipalities as well as some in York and Cumberland counties urging local government officials to pass a resolution that would provide consent for refugee resettlement.
Lititz Borough is one of the municipalities that the organization has contacted. Council President Shane Weaver said he personally had no problems continuing to receive refugees in the borough.
“From my perspective, Lancaster County has a pretty rich history of being an accepting place,” Weaver said, mentioning the previously-affixed status of Lancaster being the so-called refugee capital. “These individuals are appropriately screened by the federal government, and I think in Lancaster County we probably lack some diversity,” he added.
The Lititz Borough Council is expected to consider the resolution on Nov. 26.
So far, Lancaster city is the only municipality in the county that has agreed to the measure, according to Sheila Mastropietro, office director at Church World Service.
“We really hope and expect that all of the towns and boroughs will allow the status quo to continue,” Mastropietro said.
Elizabethtown and Ephrata boroughs have also been approached by Church World Service to pass their own measures. Both are in varying phases of consideration at the municipalities.
The push for local government action comes after President Donald Trump signed an executive order in September requiring both state and local governments to consent to receiving refugees within its borders as part of the national refugee Reception and Placement Program.
“It’s very unusual,” Mastropietro said of the executive order. “Unprecedented.”
Gov. Tom Wolf was among the first governors to consent to refugee resettlement for a state.
In his consent letter to President Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in October, Wolf mentioned Church World Service. He wrote the organization “has brought refugees and communities together to find mutual understanding and build strong relationships despite differences.
“That, to me, is the best of America,” he added.
However, the executive order requires both state and local governments to consent receiving refugees for initial resettlement within a certain municipality, prompting the local effort for municipalities to pass resolutions.
According to Mastropietro, 95% of refugees initially settle in Lancaster city, while a few others resettle with other already-settled relatives living in other parts of Lancaster County. Once they have settled in an area approved for consent, they are free to move to other locations as they please.
So far, Church World Service has not received any pushback on the order, but it hopes to get letters of consent approved and sent to the state department before Christmas.