Our Opinion: Loss of program hurts refugees, city and Berkshires

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   The scrapping of a plan to settle Middle East refugees in Pittsfield and Berkshire County is terrible news for refugees and bad news for the city and county, which would have been enriched by their presence. The decision by the Trump administration State Department is as indefensible as it is injurious.

  Jewish Family Service of Western Massachusetts has been working since last year to bring about 50 refugees, primarily from war-devastated Syria, into the community. The strict vetting process instituted by the Obama administration, which focused on bringing refugee families to the United States, meant that it could take as long as two years for them to reach the United States. Approval for the program in the Berkshires came in January.

​   Also in January came the inauguration of President Trump, whose nativist presidential campaign featured the scapegoating of Muslims for terrorist acts ​for which they were not responsible​​.​ ​​The president ​​has contend​ed that accepting refugees without putting them through an "idealogical certification" leaves the United States exposed to terrorism​ and lets in foreigners who don't "​share our values and love our people​.​"

​  ​He demanded "extreme vetting" of refugees as if the Obama administration hadn't been doing exactly that. His decision to reduce the number of refugees admitted to no more than 50,000, if that, consigned many families — victims of terror, not terrorists themselves — to stagnation in overcrowded refugee camps.This limitation led to the demise of the program for Pittsfield (Eagle, Sept​. 20).

  Like communities all across the nation, Pittsfield was built by one wave of immigrants after another from all over the world. The modest group of refugees the city had hoped to welcome would have continued this constructive process. An educational session about the program at Herberg Middle School earlier this year drew reasonable questions devoid of the hysteria that accompanies issues related to Muslims in much of the United States along with expressions of support from many residents. City officials like Mayor Linda Tyer and Ward 6 City Councilor John Krol have been strong and vocal advocates of the refugee effort.

  The refugees would have been a boost for a city and county suffering from the impact of population loss, especially if they were followed by others. The newcomers would presumably take open jobs, buy homes, pay taxes, support local businesses and start their own, as recent refugee groups have done. Their children would fill open seats in classrooms and ideally settle here and raise families.

  To its credit, the persistent Jewish Family Service has not abandoned hope and plans to again propose Pittsfield as a site for resettlement. The U.S. Supreme Court will hear two appeals cases in October that at least offer an opportunity of a raising of the cap on refugees admitted to the United States.

A nation of immigrants, the U.S. has long prided itself on its acceptance of people fleeing other lands to escape hatred, prejudice and race-based violence, or to simply pursue better economic opportunities and lives for their families. The Trump White House, with its restrictive policies on refugees, its attempt to ban Muslims from several nations from coming to the nation, and through its attempt to end the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, has undermined this source of American pride within a few short months to the nation's shame.

   For many of the ​5 million Syrians displaced by the nation's civil war in the last six years, the consequences are real and devastating. For Pittsfield and Berkshire County comes a stark reminder that presidential elections have direct consequences on American communities.​​


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