Mayor of Vt. City: Blocking Refugees Would Be ‘National Tragedy'

Christopher Louras believes that an influx of people would help revitalize the city, which has seen a population decline over recent decades

If President Donald Trump makes good on a campaign pledge to slow down or halt the arrivals of refugees from hot zones like Syria, it could have a big impact on a Vermont city. 

Rutland is currently in the process of welcoming 100 refugees from Syria and Iraq, who were expected to arrive before September. More refugees were expected to come to Rutland in future years. 

"Rutland would recognize significant economic and cultural benefits," predicted the city’s mayor, Christopher Louras. 

Louras believes that an influx of people would help revitalize the city, which has seen a population decline over recent decades. 

However, many anticipate President Trump may use an executive order to limit the arrival of refugees, especially ones from areas the administration deems risky to national security, like Syria. Trump expressed strong concerns that someone wanting to do the U.S. harm could have slipped out of a country home to terrorists and snuck into a refugee camp. 

In the presidential campaign, Trump repeatedly called for limits on refugees, arguing it would be a significant contribution to ensuring the safety of the U.S. homeland. 

That would end Mayor Louras's goal to welcome new neighbors, the mayor acknowledged. 

"And to have Donald J. shut the door on people fleeing for their lives is, frankly, a national tragedy," Louras said Thursday. 

The mayor's plan was never universally accepted in Rutland. Several residents told necn off camera that they thought bringing in so many refugees wasn't a good fit for Rutland, which they said already has enough to deal with, including the national opiate addiction epidemic. 

Another resident, who asked that her name not be used, said she felt the project was forced on the city in secrecy by the mayor, and any decisions should have followed public meetings or a vote. 

The Rutland Regional Medical Center is one of several employers in the area that said it has open jobs it would consider refugees to fill. 

“Naturally, Rutland Regional is disappointed with the proposed restrictions of the refugee resettlement program and the effect it will have on the Syrian families slated to be resettled here,” Brian Kerns, the vice president of human resources for the hospital said in a statement to necn. “As a major employer of the region, we continue to have open positions for which we invite any and all qualified applicants to apply for employment.” 

Currently, Castleton University is presenting an exhibit of art from Syria in a downtown gallery. Much of the work was inspired by the pain in war-torn streets of Syria. 

"I would love to see them have a safe place to live," Rutland County resident Kris Finnigan said of Syrian refugees. 

"The United States just needs to calm down and be who we are: a nation of immigrants," said Theresa Gorman-Kahler, another Rutland County resident. 

Congressman Peter Welch met privately Thursday morning with the first two Syrian refugee families to settle in Rutland. Rep. Welch, a Democrat, told necn he found the new arrivals warm and ready to seek permanent homes and work to begin contributing to their new community. 

"I wish Donald trump was with me. I really wish that," Welch said, describing how he thinks anyone who meets the families would not fear the concept of refugee resettlement.

Welch also said he is confident that refugees who are admitted into the United States are thoroughly vetted for safety. 

"We've got an apparatus to make certain, as best as we possibly can, that people we allow into the country are safe," Welch said. 

Welch added that amid the continued uncertainty over federal policies on refugee resettlement, he hopes more people from Syria and Iraq can still come to Rutland to make fresh starts. 

Contact Us