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UPDATED Wednesday:

The Champaign city council gave its consent Tuesday evening in a unanimous vote to continue letting refugees resettle here.

ORIGINAL:

CHAMPAIGN — The Champaign city council will vote tonight on whether to continue letting refugees resettle here.

Like other local communities, Champaign has until Dec. 25 to sign a letter of consent to accepting refugees, following an executive order President Donald Trump signed in September.

“Given the life-saving nature of this program, I ask that you provide written consent by Dec. 20, 2019,” Lisa Wilson, the executive director of the East Central Illinois Refugee Mutual Assistance Center, wrote in a letter to the city.

Also in September, Trump slashed the number of refugees that will be allowed in the country this fiscal year — to 18,000, down from 30,000 the previous year and 110,000 during President Barack Obama’s final year in office.

Wilson’s organization, also known as the Refugee Center, helped settle one refugee family in the past year and four families from Afghanistan that came here on a special immigrant visa.

“Given that we only saw one true refugee family with this very low ceiling, we’re not expecting to receive any actual refugees,” Wilson said.

The Refugee Center resettles refugees for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“Services include housing provision and cultural orientation, referral to English language and employment programs, and assistance with school enrollments,” Wilson wrote. “These services help to facilitate earliest possible self-sufficiency and integration into our community. Refugee resettlement has economically and culturally enriched our community.”

The center is based in Champaign, but will need consent from any community where a refugee could be resettled.

Wilson said she has sent letters to Savoy, Rantoul and Champaign County, and has already received consent from Urbana.

“Those are really the only places we’ve ever traditionally settled any of our clients,” Wilson said.

Savoy Village President Joan Dykstra said, "We have not discussed the issue."

Illinois also has to consent to accepting refugees, and on Tuesday, Gov. J.B. Pritzker did so in a letter sent to the U.S. State Department.

“As the Governor of Illinois, I proudly consent to the continuation of refugee admission to our state and extend a warm welcome to refugees who have come and will be coming to Illinois,” Pritzker wrote.

Because Champaign is run by its council, the city attorney determined members would need to vote on whether to send the letter to the U.S. State Department and the Refugee Center.

The city staff’s report to council notes that a “yes” vote would be “consistent with Council’s (vision) statement that ‘Champaign is an inclusive community that welcomes all.’”

While Wilson is urging the council to approve it, she wishes Trump hadn’t made the requirement in the first place.

Besides increasing her workload, she said, “I do not support policies that create this kind of fear in the community.”

“I would like the general public to understand how much more difficult it has become for immigration of any type into the U.S.,” Wilson said. “This administration is really trying to make it harder on every front for people to immigrate to the U.S.”

Trump’s executive order notes that local consent is being sought in order to “be respectful of those communities that may not be able to accommodate refugee resettlement.

“State and local governments are best positioned to know the resources and capacities they may or may not have available to devote to sustainable resettlement,” the executive order stated.

News-Gazette

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Ben Zigterman is a reporter covering business at The News-Gazette. His email is bzigterman@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@bzigterman).

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