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VTDigger: Welch Visits with Syrian Refugees in Rutland

January 27, 2017
In The News

Rep. Peter Welch says his meeting with the first two Syrian refugee families to arrive in Rutland was bittersweet.
Welch met with the families Thursday morning against the backdrop of an impending executive order that is widely expected to suspend the refugee resettlement program for 120 days and indefinitely halt admission of refugees from Syria. According to a report in Reuters the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has already stopped refugee resettlement interviews in anticipation of the executive order.

A draft of the order was leaked on Wednesday but it is unclear when Trump will sign it or if it will be modified. In September Rutland was selected as a resettlement site for up to 100 Syrian and Iraqi refugees.

Welch, who also Thursday visited the GE Aviation plant and Killington Resort, said he regretted that President Donald Trump had not accompanied him during his visit with the Syrian families and the people of Rutland.

“It was such a wonderful meeting with two remarkable families,” Welch said. The families had been through a lengthy vetting process, according to Welch. After he met them, he wondered why it took more than 20 minutes for the government to approve their entry into the United States. Both families had lived in refugee camps for a long time, Welch said, never knowing what the next day would bring.

“It was quite clear that what gave the parents the strength to endure, was to do whatever it took to protect their children at all costs,” Welch said.

Welch said one of the families was from Damascus, where the father worked as an accountant during the day and as a sales rep on the side. The other family comes from Aleppo, a city that has been reduced to rubble during the civil war. Welch said the father of that family ran a jewelry shop and also had experience working in the agricultural industry in Turkey.

The interpreter who accompanied Welch came to the United States from Iraq four years ago on a visa program designed to ease the admissions process for individuals who have worked with the U.S. military. Welch said under Trump’s proposed executive order that program would be in peril.

“Trump’s executive order means any other interpreter in Iraq or Afghanistan may be left behind,” Welch said.

Since late April when Mayor Chris Louras announced that Rutland was being considered as a resettlement site for up to 100 Syrian and Iraqi refugees, the city has been engulfed in an often divisive debate over the merits of the program and whether Rutland has the resources to take in refugees. Welch said he admired the fact that Rutland had gone through a “long, drawn out and legitimate discussion” about what this means.

“They got through it,” he said. “They got to the other side.”

Welch pointed to a remark made by Timothy Cook, a doctor in Rutland and outspoken opponent of refugee resettlement. Cook told National Public Radio that once the refugees had arrived he would do everything in his power to help them. “That is what Vermonters do,” he said.

“I’d like Trump to hear from people like Dr. Cook,” Welch said.

Welch said there was little that could be done to challenge or overturn the order and that in the long run it would undermine U.S. foreign policy.

Rutland Welcomes, a group that has supported refugee resettlement, announced that it is holding a rally in support of refugees on Saturday in Rutland. “For all its challenges, Rutland is a loving place for families,” said Jennie Gartner a volunteer with the group. “This is a day to stand up for those who have arrived and show we welcome them with open arms and compassion.”