Note: A federal judge on Wednesday blocked President Donald Trump's executive order that required state and local governments to provide consent for refugees to be resettled.
Bellevue and La Vista have provided consent for the resettlement of refugees, while Papillion’s City Council vote failed and Sarpy County commissioners are seeking more information before it votes.
President Donald Trump issued an executive order Sept. 16 that said refugees would only be resettled in jurisdictions in which both state and local governments provided written consent to the U.S. Department of State.
Nebraska’s three organizations that resettle refugees — Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska, Catholic Social Services of Southern Nebraska and Refugee Empowerment Center — have sought consent from cities and counties where refugees could be resettled.
The organizations are asked to include the written consent in their applications for State Department funding.
The Trump administration signaled it would resettle 18,000 into the country during the 2020 fiscal year, down from about 30,000 in 2019.
In 2019, 445 refugees were resettled to Nebraska and between 300 and 400 are projected for 2020, according to documents Lutheran Family Services provided to local governments.
La Vista’s City Council approved consent at its Dec. 3 meeting.
Bellevue Mayor Rusty Hike said he waited until Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts provided consent on Dec. 23 and then he wrote a letter providing consent. Bellevue’s council — unlike those in Papillion and La Vista — did not vote on the consent.
There is no requirement in the executive order to have councils vote, and the State Department’s funding notice to organizations only specifies that organizations applying for grant money to resettle refugees should seek consent from governors and the “executive officer of the local government (county or county equivalent).”
Hike said he heard from Lutheran Family Services and Bellevue residents who were in favor of resettling refugees. He said current Bellevue families would be affected and he wanted to continue those relationships.
Papillion’s City Council voted to provide consent during its Jan. 7 meeting and the vote failed 4-2.
Two of the council’s eight members, Tom Mumgaard and Lu Ann Kluch, were absent from the meeting. In order for Papillion’s council to pass a vote the majority of the whole council, or five members, must vote in favor, not just the majority of those present.
Councilmen Jason Gaines and Steve Sunde voted against providing consent. They expressed concerns about public safety and pointed to countries where refugees come from like Iraq, Somalia and Syria.
Gaines said he didn’t want Papillion to become a “hotbed of refugees” and Sunde said he was concerned about “fraud” in the refugee vetting process.
They said they felt they didn’t have enough knowledge on the issue to vote in favor.
“I’m honestly not educated enough on the issue to subject my community to it, good or bad,” Gaines said.
The top five countries of origin for refugees coming to Nebraska between 2016 and 2018 were Myanmar (25.8%), Iraq (23.8%), Bhutan (13.5%), Somalia (9.2%), and Syria (7%), according to Lutheran Family Services documents.
Papillion Police Chief Scott Lyons said during council discussion he was comfortable with refugees resettling because of the lengthy vetting process and because refugees would be resettled in the city because of family connections.
“As far as safety, these individuals would be among those people that would be the safest to be considered for naturalization into the country,” he said.
Papillion Mayor David Black said he also would have been comfortable if the council had approved consent for resettlement.
The Sarpy County Board of Commissioners tabled its vote on Jan. 7 to provide consent and will take up the issue again on Tuesday.
Commissioners Don Kelly and Jim Warren said refugees were welcome in Sarpy County but the board had several questions it wanted answered before it voted. Those included if by providing consent the county could be obligated to use tax dollars in the future and what would happen if the county consented but a city didn’t, or vice versa.
“They’re asking me to provide consent and I don’t have all the answers I need, nor have I spoken to the people of Sarpy County to know if they support this or not,” Kelly said.
“For me personally it’s a lot more questions than answers.”
Other Nebraska jurisdictions that provided consent as of Jan. 3 were Beatrice, Columbus, Lexington, Lincoln, Madison, Norfolk and Omaha, said Lynn Rex, director of League of Nebraska Municipalities.