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AZ Republican lawmaker disagrees with Ducey on refugee resettlement – sort of

By: - January 14, 2020 7:37 am

Rep. Walter Blackman, R-Snowflake. Photo by Jeremy Duda | Arizona Mirror

A Republican lawmaker is pulling back on statements he made opposing the resettlement of refugees in Arizona that were published in a conservative blog and criticized Gov. Doug Ducey’s proclamation that Arizona would welcome refugees. 

In December, after Ducey announced Arizona would participate in refugee resettlement, a Republican Party activist emailed several GOP lawmakers asking whether they support or oppose the governor.

Rep. Walt Blackman, R-Snowflake, responded on Dec. 20.

“I am not in favor of Governor Ducey’s announcement to resettle displaced refugees in Arizona,” Blackman wrote back to Brent Backus, a GOP precinct committeeman from Waddell. The full response was published Jan. 10 in the conservative blog Republican Briefs.

Blackman backtracked when Arizona Mirror asked him about those comments. 

He said in a Jan. 10 interview that he supports refugee resettlement in the United States. He added that discussions of refugee resettlement should also account for what resources are available to people already living in the country who are experiencing homlessness. 

“I am for legal resettlement of refugees, as long as we are in hand taking care of our homeless population,” Blackman said. “What I see everyday when I go to work at the Capitol, I see Arizonans that are homeless, that are sleeping in the parks and do not have the basics that we are going to give these refugees.”  

During the first 30 to 90 days after refugees first arrive in the country, they can access federal programs like English language training, case management, cash and medical assistance and employment services, according to the Arizona Department of Economic Security.  

On Jan. 10, Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican, announced his state won’t participate in the refugee resettlement program. He said Texas has “done more than its share” and cited existing needs. 

“At this time, the state and non-profit organizations have a responsibility to dedicate available resources to those who are already here, including refugees, migrants, and the homeless,” Abbott said. “As a result Texas cannot consent to initial refugee resettlement for FY2020.”

According to federal data, between Oct. 1, 2019 and Dec. 31, there have been 3,219 refugees admitted into the country, and 250 of them arrived in Texas and another 127 in Arizona.

Refugee admissions to the U.S. have plummeted during Donald Trump’s presidency, according to Pew Research, while the number of displaced people worldwide reached the highest levels since World War II. 

In September, Trump gave states and local governments an out on resettling refugees. Ducey and 41 other governors didn’t take the opportunity to close the door on refugees, according to the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service

Four of Arizona’s most populous jurisdictions – Phoenix, Tucson and Maricopa and Pima counties – have all agreed to welcome refugee families in their neighborhoods. 

Blackman voted twice for measure favoring of refugee resettlement

During the 2019 legislative session, Blackman voted twice in favor of a House resolution supporting refugees – once as vice-chair of the State and International Affairs Committee and another on the House floor. House Concurrent Resolution 2027 stated “members of the Legislature welcome and declare their support for resettling all types of refugees in Arizona.”

He told the Mirror on Jan. 10 that he still stands behind that bipartisan measure. 

“I support it in line of us taking care of our homeless population,” Blackman said. “I believe we can do both, we need to look and take care of Arizonans that are homeless and simultaneously we should be able to take care of the number of refugees the Governor wants to resettle.”

In committee and floor discussions related to HCR2027, Blackman didn’t bring up homelessness. The measure passed unanimously in the House but didn’t get a hearing in the Senate. 

In his response to Backus that was published by the Republican website, Blackman doesn’t mention homelessness, either. He told the Mirror those statements were incomplete. 

Backus shared with the Mirror a Dec. 20, 2019 email response from Blackman. All of his statements are included in the blog.

Backus said his takeaway from Blackman’s email and a subsequent phone conversation was that he opposed Ducey’s decision to continue resettling refugees in the state. 

He said Blackman seemed concerned with veterans and homeless people living in the state, and speculated that the Republican legislator is walking back his statements because of pressure from Ducey’s office. 

Blackman told the Mirror that, while he supports continued refugee resettlement in Arizona, he wants to be inclusive of those experiencing homelessness, many of them who are veterans, are living with a mental illness or are victims of crimes. 

“If we can do one, we can do the other,” Blackman said. “We didn’t hear any of that in the governor’s statements… I am not against folks coming into the country legally, I am not against helping refugees. I am against that the refugees are being taken care of before our homeless here in Arizona.”

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Laura Gómez
Laura Gómez

Laura Gómez Rodriguez previously covered state politics and immigration for the Arizona Mirror.