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Black Hawk County agrees to accept refugees

Black Hawk County agrees to accept refugees

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WATERLOO — Black Hawk County will continue to welcome refugees.

Members of the county Board of Supervisors voted 4-0 Monday to consent to continued refugee resettlement in their jurisdiction. Supervisor Dan Trelka was absent.

The measure was a response to an executive order signed by President Donald Trump on Sept. 26 that gives state and local governments the right to reject initial resettlement of foreign refugees.

The order requires states and cities to provide written consent to the U.S. Department of State if they wish to continue receiving refugees and related funding after June 1.

“We know just how much our community has been such a welcoming community and really been enriched by the Bosnian refugees, by the Congolese refugees, by the Burmese refugees,” said Supervisor Chris Schwartz. “It’s a really important part of the fabric of Black Hawk County.

“It’s kind of sad that it’s necessary to do this kind of thing right now, but this is certainly going to stay a welcoming community,” he added.

Sara Zejnic, director of refugee and immigrant services at Catherine McAuley Center in Cedar Rapids, has been asking counties within 100 miles of its office to send consent letters to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Linn, Johnson and Louisa counties have also passed similar resolutions to date, she said.

“The letters will be kept on the Department of State’s website basically demonstrating which counties and states are providing consent,” Zejnic said. “It means we’ll be able to continue settling refugees in Black Hawk County.”

Zejnic said the Catherine McAuley Center provides initial resettlement in a 100-mile radius of the Cedar Rapids office and has helped 47 refugees settle in Black Hawk County in the past year.

Iowa was one of the first states in the nation to provide resettlement service when Gov. Robert Ray in 1975 signed off in support of accepting the new residents as a wave of Vietnamese refugees was seeking to come to the United States.

While Trump’s executive order has caused public disagreements in some jurisdictions across the country and put pressure on Republican governors across the nation, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds sent a letter Dec. 10 stating Iowa consents to refugee resettlement.

Black Hawk County Supervisors Linda Laylin applauded the governor’s decision.

“It was great to see the governor signing it a couple of weeks ago,” Laylin said. “That was very helpful to all of us.”

Republican governors in several heavily red states announced last week they plan to continue to accept refugees — despite Trump’s executive order allowing state and local governments to block resettlements. So far, 11 GOP governors have made such statements.

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