Our Opinion: Another attempt at refugee program

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After Pittsfield's John Dickson, a retired U.S. diplomat and member of the Peace Corps Community for Refugees, wrote an Eagle oped column that in part urged Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer to pursue bringing refugees to settle in Pittsfield, he received a call from the mayor saying she was doing just that. We applaud her effort.

About 2 1/2 years ago, Pittsfield and Berkshire County appeared poised to receive 50 refugees, most of them members of families, from war-devastated Syria. The Jewish Family Service of Western Massachusetts was the chief force behind the program and the refugees had all been thoroughly vetted by the Obama administration. Sadly, this effort was squashed by the Trump administration, which dramatically reduced the number of refugees that the nation would accept. This was when President Trump was ratcheting up his scare campaign to cruelly scapegoat refugees as criminals, murderers and thieves who also take American jobs.

That dynamic has changed, however. On Sept. 26 of last year, President Trump signed an executive order to give states and local governments the opportunity to opt out of refugee resettlement. He apparently assumed that there would be a rush by cities and states to opt out by Tuesday's deadline, boosting his anti-refugee, anti-immigrant political stance. But that's not what happened.

As Mr. Dickson observed in his column ("In fact, we do want to help more refugees," Jan. 13), only one state, Texas, has opted to not accept refugees. In contrast, 42 states, including Massachusetts, declined to be removed from the program. Politically, these states are red, blue and purple. Roughly 100 cities have expressed an interest in accepting refugees, including Pittsfield, Northampton, Holyoke, Chicopee and West Springfield. Springfield is a rare opt-out because of the opposition of Mayor Domenic Sarno.

That millions of refugees have lost their homes and livelihoods because of wars, some of which the United States has unfortunately played a role in, provides a strong ethical case for accepting them within our borders to begin new lives. The economic case is made by a recent Department of Health and Human Services report cited by Mr. Dickson revealing that the presence of refugees nationally over a 10-year-period brought in $63 billion more in revenue to governments than they cost. While the president claims that America is "full," there are underpopulated areas of the nation that would benefit from refugees and immigrants to help rebuild stagnant local economies.

Which brings us to Pittsfield and much of Berkshire County, which need immigrants to counter population losses, pay taxes, support businesses, start businesses, work jobs that are wanting for applicants and send their children to fill seats in schools. Along with welcoming immigrants, Pittsfield and its neighbor towns should join other communities in pursuing refugees for resettlement. Mayor Tyer may have preferred a quiet approach so as to avoid stirring up opposition but we believe Pittsfield is a welcoming community, and we urge the mayor to keep the city up to speed on any progress that is made or pitfalls that emerge.

An opportunity was lost through no fault of our own in 2017. Let's explore another one.

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