In what can be described as nothing other than a misdirected, confusing, un-parliamentary process, the Delta Junction City Council will take up for the second time a request from Catholic Social Services (CSS) to support refugee placement in Delta Junction. The topic came to the City on Nov. 7 through an email from Issa Spatrisano, program director for the Catholic Social Services Refugee Assistance and Immigration Services Program and Lisa Aquino, executive director.
The emailed letter was taken before the City Council by Mayor JW Musgrove at its Nov. 19 meeting requesting the city to provide a letter of consent to continue refugee resettlement. The letter states that a new executive order “requires your formal consent for continued refugee resettlement in Delta Junction.”
On September 26 President Donald Trump signed Executive Order 13888, “Enhancing State and Local Involvement in Refugee Resettlement.” In this EO, the President has directed the U.S. Secretary of State to communicate with local communities and states about the resettlement process and should only resettle refugees in those jurisdictions in which both the state and local governments have given consent to receive refugees.
The maximum number of refugees that will be accepted into the United States in the current fiscal year (ending September 30, 2020) is 18,000. This number is down from 30,000 in FY2019.
The topic, placed under the “Correspondence” section of the meeting agenda took a total of 45 minutes of the Council’s time at its Nov. 19 meeting.
Musgrove began explaining the request and program and Council Member Audrey Brown said she had a question, which was never asked. She did state, the refugees “are not coming here for life saving reasons.”
Participating by phone, Brown added, “We aren’t actually resettling people here, most people come here from another state. This letter doesn’t really apply to us.”
Musgrove responded that it does apply and continued reporting on the program, saying he had spoken to Spatrisano. He said those proposed to be relocated here must have a family tie to be placed here.
“The reason why the letter is coming to us because we have family ties to people who are in the system, who have requested refugee status,” said Musgrove.
He said according to CSS, one to five arrivals in Delta Junction could be expected.
Musgrove explained that the people could be placed in Anchorage and after a few days they become legal residents in Alaska and are free to drive anywhere and live without any approval, so they don’t need to be initially placed in Delta Junction to end up here.
“My recommendation is that we, the City Council, consent to initial refugee resettlement,” he said following his presentation.
Council member Alan Levinson said he had heard from a citizen who wished to speak on the topic but was unable to make it to the council meeting due to short notice of the topic. He suggested delaying the topic until an upcoming meeting.
Responding, Musgrove said there was a Dec. 20 deadline to submit the decision of the Council. Musgrove gave no indication why the decision could or could not be delayed to a future meeting. At the time the Council had a meeting scheduled for Dec. 3.
Al Edgren from the audience spoke on the topic, raising the question about the existing partnership between the City and CSS mentioned in the letter. Musgrove said it was just a “word terminology” CSS used to convince people to go along with the program, saying he told CSS, “Don’t be blowing smoke at me, just give me the facts.” He and city administrator both stated there is no such agreement.
Edgren suggested that the City place some restrictions on those who could be allowed to be relocated under the program, and how many people. Musgrove said the City could not place such restrictions in the letter.
Raising the question of public notice, Edgren recommend delaying a decision on the topic and maybe placing a notice in the Delta Wind on the topic. Leith said a notice was in the paper, but was corrected by others, as the City does not run notices of its meetings in the newspaper. Musgrove added it didn’t matter if it was in the paper as it was on the City website and people could look at it there. Although the City does place its Council meeting agendas on the website, full informational meeting packets are only available at City Hall.
Musgrove said the bottom line was that the City could delay past the deadline, but people could still be relocated to Anchorage and they would be free to then come to Delta Junction.
“It really doesn’t enhance us to say no because they are going to come here anyway,” he said.
Council member Lou Heinbockel brought up the issue that the Council only represents about 1,000 people and the area is quite a bit larger in population and most of the people settle outside of the city. He suggested that the Council didn’t need to take any action at all on the topic.
Again Musgrove restated his opinion that the Council “say that we agree with the initial refugee resettlement” according to the terms of the State Department letter.
After a discussion that lasted approximately 35 minutes Brown made a motion to postpone any action and place the item on the Dec. 3 Council agenda to allow people to come and speak to the topic. Council Member Freda Degnan seconded the motion. There was no pending motion to take any action at the time the motion to postpone action was made. With no discussion the council voted 3-3 to postpone action on the letter. With the motion not receiving the required four votes, the motion to postpone the item failed.
Musgrove then asked for a motion or if someone wanted “to vote on it.” The Council again began discussion of the topic with no motion having been made.
Musgrove stated they already had one vote to table any action on the topic until the next meeting, which failed. However, no action had been proposed on the topic, and he again asked for a motion to “approve or disapprove this statement.”
Getting no response, Musgrove continue to delay moving to another topic, again asking for a motion, restating the request from CSS.
Getting none, Musgrove asked a fourth time for a motion to take some type of action or to just let it sit since it wasn’t to be placed on the next meeting’s agenda.
Levinson then made a motion to send a letter to CSS in favor of support. Heinbockel seconded the motion so there would be a vote. Musgrove continued to dominate the conversation, failing to recognize a council member that wished to make a comment.
The motion failed 2-4. Musgrove stated the whole thing would just be placed on the back burner.
Having the motion to take a position of support and failing should have killed the topic under Robert’s Rules of Order. The Council is supposed to be conducting its meetings under Robert’s Rules, and under these rules, unless a notice of reconsideration was filed by one of the council members that voted on the prevailing side of the original motion no future discussion should be considered. No notice of reconsideration has been noted on the Council’s agenda for Dec. 3, but the topic is on the agenda for the meeting as an action item.
The Delta Wind conducted some background research on the refugee status in the United States. The term has become confusing in recent years as thousands have come across the southern border of the United States claiming to be refugees. The official definition of refugee by the federal government is, “an alien who, generally, has experienced past persecution or has a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.”
The refugee resettlement process has become a partnership between the federal government and resettlement agencies to facilitate the transition. Permanent resettlement to the United States is not the first choice when individuals are accepted as immigrants. Immigrant refugees no longer reside in their home country by definition.
The first step is for refugees to register with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in the country to which they have fled. It is at this point that they are screened to see if they qualify as a refugee. If it has been determined that they are to be considered to have refugee status, the UNHRC then works toward the best possible solution whether it be a safe return to their country of origin, integration into the current local community or a permanent resettlement to a third country.
Once the determination has been made that a refugee will be allowed to resettle within the United States, the best interest of the refugee is the driving force, which guides where they will be placed.
Many refugees have family or close friends already in the United States, and resettlement agencies make every effort to reunite them. Others are placed where they have the best opportunity for success through employment so that they are more likely to become self-sufficient.
The Delta Wind contacted Catholic Social Services to provide some insight into the local impact and effects of this program, as they are the only agency in Alaska that is facilitating the program.
CSS indicated that there are two different ways that individuals are placed for initial refugee resettlement through the State Department. The first is a “free case” location that resettles refugees with no family ties. The other is called “remote placement.” These sites only receive family tie cases. Delta Junction is a remote placement site and only receives cases for initial resettlement that are joining family members already living in the local community.
Anchorage is the only site in the state that resettles free cases. All other locations are remote placement.
On average Alaska receives 50 clients a year. According to CSS, this is the anticipated number for next year. In FY 2019, Alaska resettled 47 individuals with 85% of arrivals being family tie cases. In FY 2018, Alaska resettled 42 individuals.
With Delta Junction only receiving arrivals when there is a family tie, it is difficult to predict the actual number due to the refugee pipeline, but at this time CSS knows of one individual who has family in Delta Junction and would be resettled here in the coming year. Last year, Delta Junction had no refugee arrivals.
The relocation area is defined by the entity granting consent per this new Executive Order. Therefore, the City of Delta Junction would be consenting only for the area for which they have jurisdiction.
The City can grant consent to the program at any time and can also opt out of the program at any time according to CSS.
The City will not be required to administer any services to refugee arrivals. CSS will provide all reception and placement core services and provide case management and employment support to arrivals through federal funds that support resettlement. The executive order simply asks that the state and local entities consent to resettlement within their community.