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Questions Surround Missoula's Refugee Resettlement Efforts In Wake Of Trump's Election

Two of the estimated 800-plus who turned out for a March 1, 2016 rally in Missoula in support of refugee resettlement.
Josh Burnham
Two of the estimated 800-plus who turned out for a March 1, 2016 rally in Missoula in support of refugee resettlement.

Donald Trump’s election seems to have, at least in the short-term, bolstered a Missoula non-profit group’s refugee resettlement goals.Mary Poole founded Soft Landing Missoula. Just two days after Tuesday’s election, she said:

"We got 25 new applications for volunteers (all in one day). I’m sure that was a response from the election. We’ve got an amazing outpouring of support, which is heartening and I think we just keep on keeping on."

Soft Landing Missoula helped bring the non-profit International Rescue Committee to Missoula. IRC Missoula has resettled six African families locally since last summer.

Poole says more refugee families will arrive in the Garden City before year’s end.

"We do have a few more cases that have been assured to Missoula," Poole says. "We should be seeing a few more refugee families come in November for sure and December for sure."

Poole won’t specify how many families are expected or where they’re coming from. She refers those questions to International Rescue Committee Missoula officials.

IRC declined comment for this story other than to say it’s discussing the path forward in the wake of Trump’s election.

Soft Landing’s Mary Poole:

"Yeah, I don’t know what we do now."

Prior to the election, IRC Missoula said it intends to bring up to 150 more refugees to Missoula next year. Some of them could come from Syria and Iraq.

President-elect Trump wants the U.S. to stop accepting refugees from terror-prone regions of the world. He’s specifically mentioned Syria and Iraq.

At least one Montana group hopes he keep his word.

"We’ve got to bring people in that we can do backgrounds on. We can’t just automatically bring somebody in because they’re from a war-torn nation," Beringer says.

That’s Calvin Beringer, co-leader of the Flathead County chapter of ACT for America. The group promotes greater scrutiny of Muslims in the name of national security.

ACT describes itself as educational. Montana-based and national human rights groups say ACT engages in hate speech.

At Congressman Ryan Zinke’s election night watch party, Beringer told Montana Public Radio that properly-vetted immigrants will always be welcomed to America and have a legal path to get here.

"But they’re going to know that they’re going to be screened lawfully, like they should be, instead of just being picked up and just dumped into a country. I look for ACT to be a positive influence over what’s going on," says Beringer. "We’re going to be part of that group that will help other organizations and other governments to say ‘let’s do it and let’s do it right."

Soft Landing’s Mary Poole says ACT is overestimating its own potential influence.

"I think there would have to be a big change in the process of it to involve them as an organization that has direct oversight to refugee resettlement. I would have to look at it further, but it’s not something that would automatically make sense to me how that would happen," says Poole.

In the end, it may not matter whether ACT is directly involved in refugee policy or not.  Experts say a president has very broad discretion to determine how many refugees are admitted into the country; it could range from tens of thousands to none.

Refugee advocates, like Missoula’s Mary Poole, will closely watch as President-elect Trump continues to shape both his administration and its policies:

"This is not something that I did to directly involve myself in one of the largest political hornet’s nests in our recent history, Poole says. "I didn’t have a TV; I didn’t know that was happening. I’m coming from such a genuine place of wanting to help families and wanting to help children that are suffering and who are fleeing for their lives."

Poole says she’s confident that Missoula’s refugee program will continue to grow, despite the significant challenges that it may be facing.

O’Brien first landed at Montana Public Radio three decades ago as a news intern while attending the University of Montana School of Journalism. His first career job out of school was covering the 1995 Montana Legislature. When the session wrapped up, O’Brien was fortunate enough to land a full-time position at the station as a general assignment reporter. Feel free to drop him a line at
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