Ravalli County meeting on refugees draws hundreds
HAMILTON – A public hearing on a proposed letter opposing the settlement of Syrian refugees in Ravalli County and the surrounding area drew hundreds Thursday afternoon.
The Ravalli County Commission hosted the meeting, which had to be moved three times to accommodate the crowd.
By the time the meeting was finished, the commissioners had heard enough to approve a modified version of the letter and expand its circulation to include the governor, Montana’s congressional delegation and Missoula officials.
About 500 people settled into the bleachers at the Hamilton Junior High School gym for a meeting that garnered a large cheer when the commissioners announced it would begin with the Pledge of Allegiance and included a loud emphasis from the crowd on the words “under God” during its recital.
The commissioners recently released their proposed letter to the U.S. State Department that opposed the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the county and surrounding area. The draft letter expressed concerns about the community’s safety due to government’s inability to adequately vet the refugees to ensure they don’t belong to a terrorist organization.
Most of the people who spoke Thursday agreed with them.
Commission Chair Ray Hawk opened the meeting by saying they had received a good deal of correspondence on the issue, with a margin of about 50 to 1 in opposition to allowing refugees to settle in Ravalli County.
After a commissioner read the proposed letter, most people in the gymnasium rose to their feet and applauded.
But the first member of the public to come to the podium spoke in opposition to the commissioners’ letter.
Chris Love of Corvallis told the commission the federal government doesn’t determine where refugees go and the independent agencies that do typically send them where they have family members or to places where there are plenty of jobs, which Ravalli County lacks.
“I think the chance of folks being sent here is minimal,” Love said.
Rep. Nancy Ballance, R-Hamilton, said the resettlement of refugees is “big business” that generates millions of dollars for the organizations involved. She said the governor’s decision to allow Syrian refugees to settle in Montana was an effort to obtain some of that federal funding.
“He was saying Montana is open for business,” Ballance said. “Make no mistake about it, refugee resettlement is big business.”
Read full article by Perry Backus on the Missoulian.