Judicial Watch: Federal Contractor Tells Local Official to Keep Syria Refugee Plans Secret
‘If we open it up to anybody and everybody, all sorts of people will come out of the woodwork’ — Amila Merdzanovic, executive director, Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program
Second Group Helping to Resettle Syrian Refugees in Rutland, Vermont Received 91% of its Funding from Government Grants
(Washington, DC) – Judicial Watch today released 128 pages of documents it obtained from the mayor of Rutland, Vermont, showing a concerted effort by the mayor and a number of private organizations to conceal from the public their plans to resettle 100 Syrian refugees into the small southern Vermont town.
The documents include an April 14, 2016, email from Amila Merdzanovic, executive director of the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program, to Mayor Christopher Louras, in which she wrote:
I want to share with you the concern my HQ has about holding a public forum. If we open it up to anybody and everybody, all sorts of people will come out of woodwork. Anti-immigrant, anti-anything. They suggest that the forum be invite only but make it as wide as possible. Work with faith leaders, United Way, etc… Perhaps, we could go back to the Congregational Church and continue the conversation there.
The mayor and resettlement organizations shrouded the plan in such secrecy that not even the town’s aldermen were informed of what was taking place behind closed doors. The aldermen eventually wrote to the U.S. Department of State protesting the plan and opened an investigation into the mayor’s actions. The State Department has not yet ruled on whether it will resettle refugees in Rutland despite the aldermen’s protest.
Handwritten notes state that the issue was, “Not what can ‘we’ do for ‘them,’ but what the diversity, cultural richness do for the community.” The documents contain detailed discussions of what Rutland will need to provide for the refugees – including housing, jobs, medical care, and places for worship.
Merdzanovic later told the Boston Globe that the hidden talks were “the right thing to do — to move slowly, keep it to a small circle of people, and then expand.”
On April 10, 2016, she wrote to the director of the State Refugee Office about her coordination with the mayor to keep the resettlement program secret:
He did share with me that the Governor’s office called him after getting a frantic call from DOL [Vermont Department of Labor] inquiring about the plan to resettle ‘100 Syrians in the next month’ in Rutland. Again, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of not sharing the information even if it is confidentially. Please respect our process, you will have plenty of opportunity to share and take action once we have met with the stakeholders. At that point we can and will share it widely. It will not serve any one of us well if the community in Rutland learned about it through the grapevine and not directly from us. The above example shows that what people hear and how they interpret it is two different things.
A May 3 document shows Hal Cohen, secretary of the agency for human services, introducing a meeting: “Vermont gains from diversity – new ideas, delicious food (laughs) …” A set of April meeting notes by the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program and the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants stated: “Refugees can bring global perspectives and expertise … direct knowledge about history and world events (unfiltered by media) … synergize energy & momentum with youth.”
The U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, a nonprofit based in Virginia, is the parent organization of the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program working with the mayor’s office. According to its financial statements the Committee received $46,560,462 of its $50,858,706 (or 91.45%) for fiscal year 2015 from “government grants.”
Local opponents of the refugee plans wanted a public vote on the proposal and transparency on the refugee settlement plan.
In December 2015, Judicial Watch sued the U.S. State Department to obtain documents about the Obama administration’s plan to resettle Syrian refugees across the country. Judicial Watch is investigating the Obama administration’s Refugee and Resettlement program, which plans to bring an additional 10,000 Syrian refugees to the United States in 2016, and even more in 2017. Obama is pressing ahead with his plan even though 129 people were killed and 350 were wounded by Syrian-trained terrorists recently in Paris. The Obama administration is working in conjunction with The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to settle these individuals all across the U.S. The federal government contracts with non-profits and other entities to settle and provide financial payments to refugees.
“Americans should be concerned that the Obama administration is funneling at least $46 million in tax dollars to a shady operation that encourages elected officials to cover up Obama’s Syrian refugee scheme,” stated Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton.