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BernCo Commission says refugees still welcome

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Bernalillo County Commissioner Debbie O’Malley (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — President Donald Trump says the federal government should only place refugees in communities that want them.

On Tuesday, Bernalillo County leaders said they do.

The County Commission on Tuesday unanimously approved a resolution “consenting to continued resettlement of refugees” and a plan to notify the appropriate federal agencies in writing.

“I think it’s very important we welcome people, all people — especially those who are in trouble,” Commissioner Debbie O’Malley said prior to the vote. “That’s what we’re about as Americans.”

The resolution, co-sponsored by Commissioners Steven Michael Quezada and Charlene Pyskoty, notes that the county has for many years welcomed refugees but references an executive order Trump issued last September. Trump’s order states the federal government “should resettle refugees only in those jurisdictions in which both the state and local governments have consented to receive refugees under the Department of State’s Reception and Placement program.”

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has already declared that the state welcomes refugees. Spokeswoman Nora Meyers Sackett cited an Oct. 7 letter the governor wrote to Lutheran Family Services Rocky Mountains, which works with refugees.

“Let me be perfectly clear,” Lujan Grisham wrote to LFSRM on Oct. 7, “New Mexico fully supports and welcomes immigrants and refugees, those seeking a chance to rebuild their lives in our country.”

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott made recent headlines by declaring his state would not accept resettlement of new refugees, “the first state known to do so,” according to the Associated Press.

A total of 101 refugees were resettled in New Mexico — and specifically Albuquerque — in 2019, according to federal numbers. Two-thirds are from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Several people spoke in favor of the county’s resolution during Tuesday’s meeting, citing the need to help those fleeing desperate conditions and the local benefits.

Farid Sharifi of Lutheran Family Services said the local refugees helped by the organization have had a “phenomenal impact” on the community culturally and economically.

“They come here to our great city with nothing but hopes, dreams, an empty pocket and four years later they are purchasing cars, homes and they are launching businesses,” he said.

Kei Tsuzuki said she co-owns a local textiles business that has employed more than a dozen refugees in the last 10 years and said they are consistently kind and willing to learn.

“One thing I’m reminded of daily is how we are connected in our humanity,” she said. “I know in these political times there’s a lot of fear against immigrants and others, and I just want us to remember that we all are connected.”

Nineteen-year-old Wangu Niyonkuru, who came to Albuquerque from the Congo, told the commission “We just want to come here to live in America to change our life and have a good life.”

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