Wyoming is the Only State Without a Refugee Resettlement Program

It looks to remain that way amid national influx of Afghans

By Kristi Eaton

Special to the Wyoming Truth

Gov. Mark Gordon is open to working with the legislature and other organizations to create a state-operated resettlement program for Afghan refugees, but at this time Wyoming has no plans for one, a spokesman for the governor says.

Wyoming is the only state that does not have a state-operated refugee resettlement program as thousands of Afghan refugees are being resettled across the United States to escape the Taliban regime that quickly resumed control in Afghanistan after the final U.S. military troops withdrew in August. President Joe Biden expects up to 95,000 Afghans to resettle in the United States within the next year.

Meanwhile, a Wyoming lawmaker says the state has the ability to offer “the freedoms that we had protected for the past 20 years.” He was referring to the two decades that American military troops have fought the Taliban in Afghanistan since al-Qaeda’s attacks Sept. 11, 2001, in the United States.

Michael Pearlman, spokesperson for the Wyoming governor, reiterated in an email Gordon’s earlier statements about the situation:

Gov Mark Gordon says he’s open to some refugees coming to Wyoming but adds “we would want to have conversations with individuals, with federal agencies and others to make sure they were properly vetted and that they had a home, etc.” (Courtesy photo)

“There are people in the state who are saying they would like to sponsor individuals,” Gordon said during a public forum in Jackson in August. “Before we took refugees, we would want to have conversations with individuals, with federal agencies and others to make sure they were properly vetted and that they had a home, etc. These are remarkable people that have really stood by our side, risking their lives and their families’ lives. They deserve to have compassion from us.”

State Rep. Landon Brown, R-Cheyenne, said he is unaware of any plans to create a state-operated refugee resettlement program.

“I think the (f)ederal government messed up our exit from Afghanistan and left the people of that country longing for the freedoms that we had protected for the past 20 years,” Brown said in an email.

Wyoming joins three other states that won’t resettle Afghan refugees: Hawaii, South Dakota and West Virginia. However, Wyoming is the only state without the ability to resettle through a public-private partnership with the government and has never resettled a refugee.

Brown said he shares concerns with those who are afraid of resettling refugees in Wyoming, but his faith leads him to believe a program is necessary.

“As a Christian, I believe it is our duty to help those that are being persecuted against and attempt to alleviate their suffering,” he said. “I truly believe we have the best (s)tate in the country, and for us to be so against a simple program is beyond my comprehension.”

Discussions of Wyoming possibly creating a refugees resettlement program were met with some anti-Muslim protests and the Koran being publicly set on fire in 2016. Former Gov. Matt Mead, a Republican, had voiced support in 2013 for welcoming mostly Syrian refugees to Wyoming, but he retreated from those comments in the years following his re-election in 2014.

The number of refugees admitted into the United States was slashed significantly during the last budget year, to fewer than 15,000. Then-President Donald Trump had targeted refugee resettlement as part of a campaign to cut legal and illegal immigration into the country. However, President Joe Biden announced in October that he was raising the cap to 125,000 refugees for fiscal year 2022, which began Oct. 1. Former President Barack Obama had set the refugee ceiling at 110,000 just before he left office following the 2016 election.

Last month, the State Department announced that groups of five American citizens could sponsor an Afghan refugee as part of a “sponsor circle.” Sponsorship consists of at least five American citizens who pass background checks. The circles must fundraise $2,275 per refugee to cover associated costs of relocating here, such as application fees and daily living expenses. Sponsors also agree to help them find housing and employment.

Previously, refugee newcomers were resettled through agencies that worked in individual states. Now, through the sponsor circles, private groups can sponsor a refugee.

The Rev. Jim Shumard, rector of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Casper, said the church is exploring how to sponsor an Afghan family.

“I’m focused on what our church can do more than what the state is or is not doing,” he said in an email.

Episcopal Migration Ministries, a ministry of the Episcopal Church, is one of nine national refugee resettlement agencies that works in public-private partnership with the government to resettle refugees.

Episcopal Migration Ministries, based in New York City, does not have formal plans to open a refugee resettlement affiliate in Wyoming, said spokesperson Kendall Martin.

“We do have relationships with Episcopalians in Wyoming who are interested in welcoming newcomers and will be going through training in the hopes of hosting a family,” she said.

Martin said some individuals, congregations and communities in Wyoming are eager and ready to provide support to refugees.

“As the landscape of resettlement changes and evolves to respond to the (Afghan) migration crisis, we expect to see resettlement expand to new locations.”

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