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Refugee Resettlement Guest Editorial 10/4/16

As Mayor and as a Bloomington native, I join the City Council in welcoming refugees to our community. Our national government program helps resettle victims of violence and persecution from around the world. While Governor Pence has actively sought to block refugees from coming to Indiana - to our state's embarrassment and contrary to our values and the law - most in our community are joining together to play our part.

Recently Exodus Refugee Immigration (ERI) was approved in their grant request to help settle about 20 families from Syria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Bloomington in the next year. An experienced organization that has successfully resettled thousands of refugees, ERI plans to open a satellite office in Bloomington and to work closely with the many volunteers in our community who want to open our doors and hearts to sixty new residents. What a great thing for our community and our future.

Since 1975, Americans have welcomed over 3 million refugees from all over the world who have built new lives, homes and communities in towns and cities in all 50 states. And all the evidence suggests that these refugees strengthen the communities - and the economies - where they settle. The national government operates the oversight and extensive screening that assures refugees are treated fairly - and a rigorous 18 to 36 month vetting process has demonstrated effectiveness in protecting public safety.

All great faith traditions in the world exhort their believers to welcome the stranger and show hospitality to the outcast - the refugee. Great faith traditions and our nation's best instincts also urge an attitude of hope rather than fear. The refugee program in our city and around our state is strongly supported by many major faiths and their members, as well as by a tapestry of diverse local individuals and organizations. It is heartwarming and inspiring to see so many coming together in a spirit of caring and hope rather than fear.

As Mayor, I don't have a formal role in the question of resettling refugees, though I intend to be as helpful as I can in both my official and private capacities. In the tradition of America, the bulk of that effort is privately led, as we are witnessing in the compassion and energy fueling preparations from so many Bloomingtonians.

Some in our community have expressed concerns and worries - or some outright hostility - about a refugee resettlement program. Dialogue and education are very important and no doubt will be part of the process ahead. All should strive for civility, grace and understanding as we answer questions, strengthen community, and move forward together to meet this opportunity to serve.

As Americans we are known as a nation of immigrants. As Hoosiers we are known for our hospitality. As Bloomingtonians we are known to value diversity. It is time to put those values into action by welcoming new folks to our community - people who are victims of some of the world's most tragic conflicts and threats. I am confident our new friends will enjoy this great city and make a brighter future, for us and for them.

As we work together on resettlement, consider the courage it takes for a family to leave their home and set off to a strange land in order to protect their children and live in freedom. Refugees are shopkeepers, farmers, engineers, doctors, teachers, laborers, and of course children. Let's all remember how powerful a warm smile, an offer of friendship, a word of encouragement can be. Let's show them Bloomington at our finest.