Springfield Mayor agrees to form task force on refugee issues
(Iobserve file photos)
SPRINGFIELD – At a sometimes-lively meeting involving state and city officials, social service agencies and community activists, Mayor Domenic J. Sarno agreed to form a task force that will examine how to better serve Springfield’s refugees.
But after nearly an hour and a half of discussions, Sarno continued to press for a moratorium on bringing new refugees to the city.
“The mayor cannot legally prevent refugees from coming to Springfield,” Archbishop Timothy Paul, of the Council of Churches, told the media after the partially closed-door meeting, from which the electronic media was barred. A reporter from The Republican newspaper of Springfield was allowed to attend the discussions.
Two weeks ago, Sarno wrote to the U.S. State Department asking that it not authorize any further refugee resettlement in Springfield.
He also reportedly included representatives of Rep. Richard Neal (D-Springfield) and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren in the Aug. 28 meeting, but neither gave any indications that the federal department was ready to respond to his request.
According to several government websites explaining the process, such as www.acf.hhs.gov, the State Department is not directly involved in determining which cities receive refugees. The department does allocate refugees to one of nine national voluntary agencies, most of which have local branches in several communities across the country. In western Massachusetts, Lutheran Family Services and the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (the parent organization Jewish Family Service) have branches in West Springfield and Springfield.
Once the agencies determine where refugees are initially placed, they receive a variety of grants from federal and state agencies. The municipalities where they live also receive funding for certain of their services related to the new residents.
Kathryn Buckley-Brawner (left), executive director of the Catholic Charities Agency of the Diocese of Springfield, served as moderator for the coalition of interested parties who faced at least 10 city officials who joined the mayor at the meeting.
She told reporters, “It’s fair to say that there are challenges facing, not only refugees, but other vulnerable people in the city.” Responding to television crews who heard loud voices coming from the meeting room, she said that “there were healthy disagreements during the meeting. The mayor brought information to us that we didn’t know about, we brought in information the mayor didn’t know about, and others brought information neither of us knew about.”
“It’s our position that we want to maintain open communication with the mayor’s office,” Buckley-Brawner said after the meeting.
“What we want is to create a pipeline, so decisions are made in collaboration and communication with each other, so that small problems don’t become huge problems, and to ensure resources are there,” she said.
During the meeting, several city officials repeated comments made at earlier meetings with the resettlement agencies, including accusations that refugees have been placed in inappropriate housing and that the agencies do not provide enough follow-up assistance once they are brought to the city.
Buckley-Brawner, who served as spokesperson for the group, stressed that agreement on the joint city-agencies task force was “very encouraging.”