In September, President Donald Trump signed an executive order regarding where refugees can be resettled in the United States. For years, the federal government had worked in conjunction with nonprofits and local authorities to resettle refugees. But Trump’s order means consent now is required from both states and local governments for refugees to be resettled. In a pair of op-eds in the Jan. 5 Sunday LNP, officials from Church World Service and an Elizabethtown pastor discussed local efforts to allow for continued refugee resettlement.
We expressed our frustration last month with Trump’s executive order. Taking a streamlined, compassionate system for settling refugees in America and adding new layers of bureaucracy — all the way down to the municipal level — struck us as unnecessary. Cruel, even.
But we admire how some here have chosen to seek out the positive side of an exasperating development.
Church World Service is an international humanitarian organization that resettles refugees in Lancaster County and elsewhere. In an op-ed, Stephanie Gromek, the organization’s development and communications director in Lancaster, and Sheila Mastropietro, the director of its Lancaster office, wrote this: “Somewhere along the way, our perspective shifted. What was once seen as a speed bump became an opportunity for outreach, for important conversations and for a reaffirmation of Lancaster County truly being the welcoming place we thought it was.”
It’s a commendable attitude. In addition to using the executive order to shine a fresh light on Lancaster County’s long history of welcoming the stranger, they are bringing another of our laudable traits to the surface: making the best of a difficult situation.
This is who we are.
Federal red tape doesn’t change who we are; it just inspires us to take a different path to the goal.
Trump’s executive order requires both states and municipalities to opt in. If either level of government says “no,” then refugees — legal immigrants who have already been through the United States’ rigorous vetting process — cannot be settled there.
The consequences are enormous, as we saw Friday. Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said his state will reject the resettlement of new refugees, The Associated Press reported.
It’s a major development for America’s second-largest state. “Texas has long been a leader in settling refugees, taking in more than any other state during the 2018 governmental fiscal year,” the AP reported. “The state has large refugee populations in several of its major cities.”
But now the door there is closed. Local officials in Houston, Dallas and other Texas cities will not be able to override the governor’s decision.
We find that shameful.
Pennsylvania, however, is not Texas.
Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf was among the first governors in the nation to consent to refugee resettlement.
But that still leaves more than 2,500 municipalities across Pennsylvania — many controlled by Republicans — to also pass resolutions welcoming refugees.
Could we keep this from being a partisan issue here? Lancaster city, firmly Democratic, was the first municipality to pass the necessary resolution. Then, as Gromek and Mastropietro wrote, “this was quickly followed by four, mostly Republican, councils of Millersville, Lititz, Ephrata and Elizabethtown, all of which voted unanimously to continue refugee resettlement in their areas.”
The Rev. Greg Davidson Laszakovits, pastor of the Elizabethtown Church of the Brethren, described the thoughtfulness of Elizabethtown Borough Council as it sought input before its Dec. 5 vote on the resolution.
“Council members listened attentively as members of my congregation ... shared how resettling refugees has bettered our church and community over several decades,” Laszakovits wrote. “The highlight of the sharing came from high school junior Daniel Tema. Daniel recounted the story of his parents’ murders in war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo, his time spent in refugee camps, and, most importantly, his extended family’s new life in Elizabethtown.”
“Daniel and his family are the embodiment of the American dream,” Laszakovits continued. “They are hardworking employees and students. They embrace new customs, foods, clothes and language, while still bringing the best of themselves and (their) homeland to the community.”
We have stated it time and again. Welcoming refugees isn’t just the correct moral choice. It makes our communities better. Stronger. Richer.
It’s also the right economic choice for a flourishing county that needs workers and entrepreneurs.
Closing the doors to refugees would be, Laszakovits writes, “a disturbing break from our nation and commonwealth’s history of welcome. My religious forebearers found freedom from oppression here in Lancaster County; perhaps yours did too. ... Their presence strengthens our communities. We cannot sit idly by while those doors are welded shut.”
It appears that resolutions welcoming refugees could be on the way in more of Lancaster County’s 60 municipalities.
“Residents and civic leaders from townships and boroughs where we don’t expect to resettle refugees have contacted Church World Service to ask how they might pass their own consent resolutions,” Gromek and Mastropietro wrote. “Even if no refugees are eventually resettled in these places, it meant something for them to join the chorus of welcome.”
We appreciate how compassionate individuals and thoughtful — and pragmatic — local leaders have come together to agree to accept refugees. They’ve made the right decision for their communities and this historically welcoming county.