Forty-seven Democratic state legislators have sent a letter of response to their Republican colleagues who sent a letter last week to Gov. Bullock, urging him to block any Syrian refugees who might come to Montana.
In a letter dated Nov. 27 and released to the media Monday, the Democrats expressed “concern” that “divisive politics seem like the only possible motivation” for the Republicans’ letter. They point out that refugees are rigorously screened; and that no governor, including Bullock, has the authority to determine who is granted refugee status, or to restrict the movement of refugees once they are in the country.
“The natural outcome of your letter is to further alienate the children and families seeking refuge from the war and terror,” said the letter. “As legislators, we owe it to our constituents to protect their security and safety, to provide accurate information, and to dissuade fears when we are able.”
The letter was signed by Sen. Tom Facey, D-Missoula, and co-signed by 44 other Democrats in the state House and Senate. It was addressed to Sen. Fred Thomas, R-Stevensville, and the other 55 legislators who signed the letter to Bullock last week.
"I felt like we were going down the rabbit hole of copying what was being said on the national political level," Facey said Monday.
Facey attended a Missoula workshop put on by Soft Landings, a group that hopes to bring refugees to the state, the day before Thomas' letter went out. At that workshop, he said he learned there are only nine nonprofit resettlement agencies in the country that can accept refugees like the ones from Syria and it would take Montana about two years to establish one here. "That's a long ways down the road," Facey said.
He feels Thomas' letter confuses understanding of the refugee placement process. Although at least 31 governors have said they will block, oppose or fight refugees moving in, it's not a decision that's in the state's hands. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled refugees are under the authority of the federal government. The Refugee Act of 1980 also clarifies federal authority.
"I really didn't want the tone of the letter to be a 'I got ya' or 'You guys are bad,'" Facey said. "I just wanted to point out some of the relevant facts and let's move on from there."
Sens. Dick Barrett, Mary Caferro, Jill Cohenour, Robyn Driscoll, Christine Kaufmann, Cliff Larsen, Sue Malek, Mary McNally, Mary Moe, Mike Phillips, J.P. Pomnichowski, Diane Sands, Jon Sesso, Sharon Stewart-Peregoy, Jonathan Windy Boy and Cynthia Wolken;
Reps. Bryce Bennett, Kathleen Williams, Kathy Kelker, Zach Brown, Virginia Court, Willis Curdy, Mary Ann Dunwell, Jenny Eck, Janet Ellis, Moffie Funk, Denise Hayman, Ellie Boldman Hill, Jessica Karjala, Ed Lieser, Ryan Lynch, Margie MacDonald, Kelly McCarthy, Nate McConnell, Andrea Olsen, Carolyn Pease-Lopez, Rae Peppers, Zac Perry, Andrew Person, Chris Pope, Jean Price, Casey Schreiner, Kathy Swanson, Susan Webber, Nancy Wilson and Tom Woods.