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Gov. Pete Ricketts has decided to allow refugees to continue being resettled in Nebraska. He becomes the 29th governor, and 11th Republican governor, to indicate his state’s support for refugee resettlement. 

LINCOLN — Gov. Pete Ricketts has decided to allow refugees to continue to be resettled in Nebraska.

Spokesman Taylor Gage said Thursday that the governor will provide a consent letter to refugee resettlement agencies, which they can include in applications to federal officials.

“We are in the process of doing that,” he said.

The decision comes as Ricketts, along with Govs. Kim Reynolds of Iowa and Kristi Noem of South Dakota, all Republicans, sent a letter to President Donald Trump thanking him for strengthening the vetting process for refugees entering the U.S. and for giving states more of a voice in the resettlement process.

“Thanks to your leadership, Americans can be confident once again in the screening process for refugees entering the United States,” the governors said.

“We applaud the recent steps taken by the White House and State Department at your direction to strengthen vetting of refugees. This provides much-needed assurance about the program’s integrity to the communities welcoming refugees in our states,” they said.

From October 2015 to September 2016, Nebraska welcomed 1,441 refugees. Over that same time period this year, just 445 refugees resettled in Nebraska, according to the Department of State’s Refugee Processing Center.

“We can connect these falling numbers directly to changes at the federal level,” said Rose Godinez, legal and policy counsel at the ACLU of Nebraska. “Refugees enrich Nebraska in every sense of the word, and we’re grateful our state’s leaders made the right call.”

Ricketts is the 29th governor, and 11th Republican governor, to indicate support for refugee resettlement.

No governors to date have said their states will not accept refugees.

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Ricketts joined leaders of several local governments who have written letters of support for refugee resettlement.

Those local leaders include Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert, Lincoln Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird and the Douglas County Board.

Nebraska has a history of welcoming refugees. As recently as 2017, the state accepted more refugees per capita than any other state. In 2019, the state ranked fifth-highest in refugee resettlement, with Iowa coming in fourth. Omaha and Lincoln typically host more than 95% of new refugees in the state.

Iowa’s governor previously wrote a letter of support for refugees.

Local and state leaders were asked to state their preferences about refugee resettlement in writing in response to a Trump administration order allowing governments to reject them.

Under the directive released in September, both state and local governments must give written consent before any refugees can be resettled within their jurisdictions.

They had until Christmas to declare their intentions for accepting future refugees.

Four years ago, Ricketts objected to having Syrian refugees placed in Nebraska. He ordered state officials to oppose any potential efforts to resettle Syrians in Nebraska and asked private resettlement agencies not to pursue Syrian refugees “until security concerns have been fully addressed.”

He raised the objections after a Syrian passport was found near the body of a suicide bomber in Paris, and his fingerprints matched those of someone who passed through Greece the month before the series of bombings and mass shootings at a heavy metal concert and various other locations around the city.

In this week’s letter to Trump, the three governors noted that in 2015, a bipartisan group of governors had asked the Obama administration to strengthen security checks for refugees. The three said President Barack Obama refused to work with the states.

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Martha Stoddard keeps legislators honest from The World-Herald's Lincoln bureau, where she covers news from the State Capitol. Follow her on Twitter @StoddardOWH. Phone: 402-473-9583.

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