Rock Island County Board members will vote Tuesday on a measure that would allow refugee resettlement in the county, defying an executive order from President Donald Trump.
Trump issued an executive order Sept. 26 declaring that unless states, counties and municipalities provide specific consent for resettlement, refugees will not be allowed to settle there.
In Rock Island County, the issue came up during the Jan. 13 meeting of the county board's governance, health and administration committee. The committee approved a measure allowing refugee resettlement and advanced it to the full board for consideration.
If the measure passes Tuesday, board members will send a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stating Rock Island County will continue to accept refugees.
A federal judge in Maryland temporarily blocked Trump's executive order Jan. 15, but the county board members still plan to send the letter to Pompeo.
"Even the Quad Cities Chamber of Commerce is backing this action because they recognize the economic impact these (refugee) programs have on our area, including with population," board Chairman Richard Brunk said Jan. 13.
Board member Drue Mielke, who also is chairman of the Rock Island County Republicans, voiced his support for accepting refugees.
"This is something I am for," Mielke said. "How do we know we have the capacity (for refugees) and are we going to work with the municipal government? How does this roll out?"
World Relief Director Laura Fontaine told committee members the refugee organization already has letters of consent from Ill. Gov. J.B. Pritzker, Moline Mayor Stephanie Acri, Rock Island Mayor Mike Thoms and State Rep. Mike Halpin, D-Rock Island.
"The last part of this is to get county approval," Fontaine said. "The refugee numbers have decreased significantly. We are looking at not even getting 100 refugees this next year in our area. We accept anybody, even regardless of your religion. If anybody needs help, we'll help them."
Fontaine said refugees are revitalizing communities in Illinois that have lost population. According to the New American Economy, she said, refugees have paid $319.2 million in state and local taxes in Illinois.
"There are a lot of misunderstandings," Fontaine said. "Refugees are invited by the U.S. government. They have Social Security numbers; they work. Their kids are going to school, and they want to be contributing members to our city and county. If we do not get county consent, we will not be able to settle refugees here, meaning our office will probably close.
"This allows (refugees) to have a new beginning. These are displaced people either from war, religious persecution, social, economic and political persecution."
Fontaine said the United States accepts a lower number of refugees than other countries do. Turkey and Germany take in the most per year. She said the Trump administration has lowered the refugee limit to 18,000 arrivals per year, "the lowest it's been in the history of the United States."
During the Jan. 15 meeting of the county board's committee of the whole meeting, resident Bill Long asked board members to reconsider welcoming refugees. Long cited statistics from the Center for Immigration Studies, saying refugees from the Middle East cost taxpayers $64,370 in the first five years after their arrival.
"This county is not in any financial position to take the risk of having more people come in here to depend on us in order to get by," Long said. "We have homeless people and veterans we're trying to take care of. If you pass this motion, you're going to be part of the problem. We are flat broke; we have been for 10 years. What we don't need is one, two or five refugees resettling here. We just don't have the dollars.
"I'm asking you not to get caught up in some feel-good motion just because it feels good to save them," Long said.
East Moline resident Jan Aguirre echoed Long's comments and asked board members to reject refugee resettlement. She said the county is "awash in financial payouts without adding refugees to the equation. Should we not be taking care of our own homeless and poverty-stricken citizens before we include refugees who will burden taxpayers further?"
Aguirre said the matter of whether Rock Island County should accept refugees should be put on the ballot and left to voters to decide.
"Refugees should not be shoved down our throats at people who actually live here without their knowledge," Aguirre said. "I find this unconscionable."
East Moline resident Jim Martin said the average refugee only has 10.5 years of schooling.
"When your son or daughter goes out to find a job, guess what? They're also in competition with these people," Martin said. "I don't see how Rock Island County can afford this. It's a drag on social services."
Board member Kai Swanson said voting against continuing to accept refugees would be a "tragic disgrace."
Board member Dorothy Beck noted refugees would be counted in the 2020 census, thereby helping Rock Island County.
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