Refugee Thanksgiving

The following op-ed appeared in the Burlington Free Press on Sunday, November 29, 2015.

The recent tragic attacks by terrorists in Paris and other places have created a sense of anxiety not only in Europe, which is dealing with tens of thousands of refugees from the Middle East, but among us Americans halfway around the world as well. This anxiety has unfortunately prompted a reaction by many prominent leaders and by a considerable segment of the public to demand that we close our doors to those refugees for fear that a terrorist will be among those we might admit.

I hope that cooler heads will prevail and that we will reject such xenophobic attitudes. Failure to do so will make the refugees fleeing from ISIS violence double victims of the terrorists. Our humanity calls on us to put ourselves in the shoes of families who want nothing more than to find safety and shelter for their children just as we ourselves would do if faced with the same situation. Turning our backs on them would make us complicit in their victimization. For this reason I applaud President Obama, Secretary Kerry, our Congressional delegation and Governor Shumlin for doing our part in offering sanctuary.

Of course U.S. authorities will have to carefully vet the candidates for asylum, and I am convinced that they will be able to do so. According to the U.S. State Department Reception and Placement overview (, the process involves the United Nations, the United States, and local agencies. For each refugee the UN review takes one to 18 months to complete, including registration, comparison of personal information to other ID information, prioritization based on special circumstances such as torture victims, and qualification and determination for country placement. If UNHCR thinks the US is good fit, they send all the paperwork to US officials.

Once the US receives the paperwork, it can take up to another two years to process. Homeland Security does security checks and interviews refugees overseas, health screenings are conducted, and additional high-level security checks are made against all US law-enforcement databases. If approved, the US passes the case along to a local non-governmental resettlement agency to facilitate entry.

In the Placement and Resettlement process 9 domestic resettlement agencies meet and review biographic information and other case records from overseas Resettlement Support Centers weekly. These agencies match local communities (about 109 across the country) with specific resources to the incoming refugees. Communities must have interpreters, available housing, English classes, employment services, medical care, and schools that can accommodate the refugees. Refugees are met at the airport, taken to the provided housing, receive employment authorization, and are in touch with the Department of State’s Reception and Placement Program for 3 months after arrival.

The Vermont Refugee Resettlement office, which receives 300-350 refugees annually, has seen families come in from all over the world – Bosnia, the Congo, Malaysia, India, Iraq, Somalia, and Nepal. Out of the approximately 300 refugees Vermont accepts each year, on average 200 of them have been employable adults. This has been consistent for the last 5 years. The center has an 80% placement rate for employment and works with numerous businesses in Chittenden County to train and employ refugees. Out of the center's 13 full time equivalent employees, 11 are former refugees. Information about the center can be found on Facebook: Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program/USCRI.

So, as we count our blessings in Thanksgiving for this wonderful land we’ve been blessed to live in, let us remember that there, but for the grace of God and circumstance of birth, are we, and welcome into our community these refugees who want to begin a new life in freedom and safety.
- Rep. Mike Yantachka, Charlotte, VT

Interview with Jon Copans, Deputy Commissioner of the Public Service Department

The November edition of the Chittenden County Democrats Show featured Deputy Commissioner Jon Copans from the Vermont Department of Public Service. Jon talked to host Mike Yantachka about the role of the PSD in energy policy, the difference between the PSD and the Public Service Board (PSB) and the status and challenges of energy and telecommunications in Vermont. The interview can be seen here.