4 local governments follow Ducey’s lead, open doors to refugees

Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, speaks at a press conference surrounded by refugees and other immigrants. She co-sponsored, along with Peoria Republican Rep. Tony Rivero, a resolution declaring that lawmakers support resettling refugees in Arizona. Photo by Laura Gómez | Arizona Mirror

The state’s two largest counties and cities have sent letters to the U.S. Department of State saying new refugees can call neighborhoods in Phoenix, Tucson and Maricopa and Pima counties home.  

The letters are required under a Trump Administration executive order from Sept. 26, 2019, which directs the federal government to only resettle refugees in jurisdictions where both state and local governments have consented to receive refugees.

Elected leaders in Southern Arizona were first to opt into refugee resettlement under the new directive. On Nov. 21, then-Mayor John Rosthchild of Tucson sent the consent letter. On Dec. 3, the Pima County Board of Supervisors approved a resolution to continue welcoming refugees. Days later, Pima County sent the consent letter to the State Department. 

That same day, Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, turned down the opportunity to halt refugee resettlement in Arizona (an action he took in 2015) and said the state will continue opening its doors to new refugees. 

“Arizona has historically been one of the most welcoming states in terms of the number of refugees resettled here,” Ducey said in a Dec. 6 letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. “Refugees arriving in the United States have been vetted and approved by the appropriate national security agencies and Department of State and have been granted legal entry to make a new home in the land of the free.”

Phoenix and Maricopa County followed Ducey. 

On Dec. 11, Mayor Kate Gallego of Phoenix issued the approval letter and the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to sign the letter of consent.  

Three faith-based groups that receive federal funding to help refugees resettle in the country filed a lawsuit in November challenging Trump’s September executive order. Arguments in the case will be heard in a Maryland court on Jan. 8. 

Refugee admissions to the U.S. are at historic lows. Fiscal year 2018, with 22,491 refugees admitted for resettlement, marked the lowest refugees admissions total in more than three decades. This year, the country expects to resettle no more than 18,000 refugees. Arizona advocates have pushed Congress to raise the annual refugee admissions floor to 95,000.

Speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives Rusty Bowers is in favor of continued refugee placement in Arizona.

“Our state is one that offers opportunity for all,” Bowers, a Republican, said in a statement following Ducey’s consent letter. “We welcome people from all backgrounds, religions, and cultures to come here and share in that special spirit.”

During last year’s legislative session, a resolution to affirm that Arizona welcomes refugees had bipartisan support. It was unanimously approved by the full House, but was never taken up by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Sen. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, chairs that committee.

According to federal data, between Oct. 1, 2019 and Dec. 31, there have been 3,219 refugees admitted into the country, and 127 of them have arrived in Arizona.