Amid National Debate, Former Refugees Become U.S. Citizens in Vermont

As the heated debate plays out across the country over President Donald Trump's policies affecting travel and immigration, Wednesday marked the final step in a long and difficult journey for a dozen people who fled violence and persecution to settle in Vermont.

At a naturalization ceremony held at the federal court in Rutland, 31 people from 14 countries became new U.S. citizens.

The list included 11 people who came to Vermont as refugees from Bhutan, and one from Somalia.

Other countries represented at the ceremony included Mexico, Ireland, Germany, Belize, Peru, and the United Kingdom.

Before settling in Essex Junction, Sabitra Gautam said she lived in a refugee camp in Nepal. Many in her native Bhutan were forced from their homes amid ethnic violence and persecution.

"I think they want the peace, freedom; a good life," Gautam told necn, describing why refugees want to find a new home in the United States.

Gautum said she worked hard, along with other members of her family, to qualify for U.S. citizenship.

The long-scheduled naturalization ceremony was the first in the Rutland area following a divisive executive order from the White House.

The community was about to welcome 100 refugees this year from Syria and Iraq, until President Donald Trump ordered a halt to that late last week.

Trump argued it's vital to first toughen vetting, to make sure, he said, that no one who wants to harm the U.S. sneaks in among asylum-seekers.

Many in Rutland were disappointed with Trump's order. Some participated in a large protest of the directive this past weekend.

Others were relieved. Tim Cook, a Rutland resident, recently told NBC 5 News he believes the city has other challenges to contend with first.

"We need to have meaningful employment developed in this city," Cook said, identifying economic growth as a priority he would like Rutland to tackle before becoming a refugee resettlement city.

In addition to being a humanitarian move, proponents of refugee resettlement in Rutland, including Mayor Chris Louras, have said several years of an influx of young families into the city would have added a jolt of cultural vitality and helped turn around years of declining population in Rutland.

That would have helped fill jobs at large employers and contributed to the region’s economy, the mayor argued.

At the citizenship ceremony in the federal court building, Abdullahi Jelle Bare of Winooski told necn he came to Vermont as a refugee from Somalia, but first had to spend 19 years in a camp in Kenya.

"It's not a good life," Jelle Bare said of living in a refugee camp. "So you come to the USA, you get freedom. You get a job. I'm going to school now."

Jelle Bare said he is employed, enjoys his job at a Burlington-area food distribution company, and is eager to continue his education at Vermont Technical College.

U.S. District Court Judge Geoffrey Crawford told the crowd the diverse backgrounds of all the new citizens make Vermont a more vibrant place.

"All of you come in search of a better life," Crawford said. "And today we honor the long and honorable commitment of our nation for welcoming and caring for refugees."

One of the new Americans told necn off-camera that she strongly disagrees with President Trump's recent executive order. So for her, the best part of the naturalization ceremony was gaining the right to vote in the next election.

Despite the president's executive order, many in Rutland, including the volunteer group Rutland Welcomes, remain committed to refugee resettlement.

Contact Us