The State Department confirmed Tuesday that Bloomington will begin resettling Syrian refugees in March 2017.
Exodus Refugee Immigration, an Indianapolis nonprofit focused on assisting refugees and immigrants throughout the state, filed a lawsuit against Gov. Mike Pence and the Secretary of Family and Social Services Administration in Nov. 2015 after Pence attempted to prevent federal funding from going toward Syrian resettlement.
“You cannot withhold federal money on the basis of discrimination,” Executive Director Cole Varga said. “That’s basically what they told him.”
The state filed an appeal but lost in appeals court.
“This means that we can use federal grant money to help resettle Syrians,” Varga said.
Exodus had typically used the Indianapolis area as a place to resettle refugees, but Varga said with the demand, they began considering an expansion. Bloomington will be the first expansion.
“The timing was right to look at a new city,” Varga said.
Exodus reached out to people in Bloomington who were interested in helping with the refugee crisis. They met with the Bloomington Refugee Support Network, noted the city council accepted a resolution to accept refugees and proposed Bloomington as a new site.
Diane Legomsky, chair of the network, said the group is very excited to begin resettlement efforts of nearly 20 families next year.
“We are kicking our heels in joy,” Legomsky said.
Legomsky said the group will continue the work that it has already been doing — compiling lists of resources like grocery stores and places of worship and acting as friends and helpers to refugees.
“We’ve had 200 people very eager to help,” Legomsky said. “Huge numbers of people will be coming out to help.”
Co-chair Elizabeth Dunn said volunteers may work with the office Exodus is opening in Bloomington or act as “first friends” to the refugees in Bloomington.
Some people in Bloomington worry about allowing refugees into the community. Grassroots Conservatives invited author James Simpson to speak on the dangers of refugee resettlement Thursday.
Simpson told his audience that refugees are capable of causing division within communities, draining welfare systems and fostering crony capitalism and corruption.
Both Dunn and Legomsky said they wanted people to understand how thoroughly refugees are vetted.
“Refugees are vetted more extensively than anyone else entering the U.S.,” Legomsky said. “Part of the reason we take in families is to lower the risk factor. Individuals may be seen as more of a risk.”
Dunn said the statistics of refugees killing people once they get into the United States mean that it’s highly unlikely for such things to happen.
“I believe the statistic is that it’s 11 times more likely to be crushed to death by falling furniture,” Dunn said. “It would be a very big gamble to try to get someone into the United States by sending them as a refugee.”
Legomsky said she knows people have questions and concerns and said the network will continue to foster open dialogue with the community regarding their issues. Otherwise, Legomsky said she is optimistic about the welcome the families expected to arrive next year will face.
“This is the Bloomington spirit we love,” Legomsky said.