A December Trump administration announcement that it is planning to halve the number of refugees coming into the U.S. in 2018 will have little impact on Missoula’s fledgling refugee resettlement program.
The U.S. State Department says that dozens of offices authorized to resettle refugees will close in 2018. The International Rescue Committee office in Missoula will not be one of them.
The IRC says the State Department decree does not apply to the Missoula office, because it serves more than 100 refugees.
The IRC plans to relocate roughly 120 refugees to Missoula in 2018, on par with last year. The IRC declined to be interviewed for this story.
"We have a lot of goals this year," says Mary Poole, the executive director of Soft Landing Missoula, a non-profit organization that helps newly relocated families ease into American life.
Poole says Soft Landing will continue its support programs for refugee families, like English tutoring, transportation and donation drives, as well as its education and outreach work for Montanans who want to learn more about refugees and resettlement. She says Soft Landing is also looking for avenues to connect refugees and Missoulians through food.
"We're actually partnering with different restaurants in the community, and families are cooking once a month. Last month we did Eritrean food at Burns Street Bistro, this month it’ll be Syrian food at Masala. So, trying to use that path, that bridge that food can be, and invite everyone to share in our table."
Community connections have not always gone so smoothly. When the International Rescue Committee started relocating refugee families in the fall of 2016, a lot of Montanans weren’t happy about it.
"My problem with it was the fact that these people were coming in that weren't being vetted satisfactorily," says Jim Buterbough
Buterbough, who lives in Whitehall, organized three rallies in Helena and Missoula early in 2016 to oppose refugees in Montana. But he says he’s backed off the issue some since then, because people didn’t really seem to care.
"That’s kind of what I saw. The same people would show up, and then you're just talking to the choir."
His concerns about national security remain, though, even after meeting with Mary Poole from Soft Landing and representatives from the International Rescue Committee. Buterbaugh says this year he plans to keep an eye on Missoula’s refugee program and Helena’s newly elected mayor, Liberian-refugee Wilmot Collins.
There are no plans to open new resettlement offices in Montana in 2018.