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Ricketts to tell Trump administration that Nebraska will accept refugees
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Ricketts to tell Trump administration that Nebraska will accept refugees

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Gov. Pete Ricketts will issue his consent to allow refugees to continue to resettle in Nebraska, a step now required by the federal government.

An executive order signed by President Donald Trump in September requires governors, mayors and other local government leaders to provide written consent to allow refugees in their communities.

Several local leaders — including the Omaha and Lincoln mayors and both the Lancaster and Douglas county commissioners — have indicated they plan to consent.

The consent of local governments, however, doesn’t matter without the governor’s OK. Had Ricketts decided not to give his consent — or chose not to respond — refugees would no longer have been able to resettle in Nebraska, which has long been considered a welcoming state for refugees.

The governor’s spokesman Taylor Gage said Thursday that “Nebraska will consent” when asked about a letter to President Trump from Ricketts and governors from Iowa and South Dakota thanking him for strengthening the vetting process of refugees.

Refugee resettlement agencies in the state, along with the ACLU of Nebraska, applauded the governor's decision.

"We are pleased the governor recognizes and honors our tradition and legacy of being a place of welcome in Nebraska," said Sharon Brodkey, director of public relations and marketing for Lutheran Family Services, the largest of the state's three resettlement agencies. 

As a faith-based organization, welcoming the stranger is fundamental to Lutheran Family Service's values, she said, and the refugees who have resettled in Nebraska have become vital parts of the community. 

"They've opened businesses, gone to work for companies here," she said. "They are proud Nebraskans."

Tom Venzor, executive director of the Nebraska Catholic Conference, said he was pleased local leaders "have continued to demonstrate their respect for human dignity by welcoming refugee families to our communities." 

Catholic Social Services also is a resettlement agency. 

The ACLU issued a statement saying it welcomed the decision but said other changes at the federal level create "malicious barriers" that add red tape and uncertainty for refugees and must be changed.

In 2016, Nebraska resettled more refugees per capita than any other state, but those numbers dropped sharply after Trump took office and reduced the “ceiling” — a presidential determination of how many refugees can be resettled in a year.

Statewide, the number of refugees resettled in Nebraska dropped nearly 70% over the past three years — from a peak of 1,441 in 2016 to just 445 last year.

In Lincoln, the number plummeted nearly 90% — from 530 in the 2017 fiscal year to just 59 in 2018, though the numbers rose this year to 102.

Lincoln Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird, who is finalizing her letter of consent, joined 90 other mayors who signed a letter from the U.S. Conference of Mayors to Trump urging him to rescind the executive order and increase the number of refugees allowed to resettle each year.

Lancaster County commissioners unanimously agreed to a letter of consent signed Thursday by the board chairman.

The U.S. Department of State lists 21 states that have issued consent. Nebraska is not yet on the list, nor are Wisconsin and Tennessee, though governors of both states recently indicated they planned to offer their consent.

The executive order issued Sept. 26 by Trump says it hopes to enhance state and local involvement in refugee resettlement, but it has caused confusion among resettlement agencies.

Three agencies filed a lawsuit in Maryland federal court, alleging the order threatens to keep thousands of refugees from being placed in communities and reuniting with their families.

States were given 90 days to affirm their consent, a deadline that fell on Christmas Day.

Refugee resettlement agencies have been working to get consent from local governments, and among the information provided to them was a sheet compiled by the Refugee Council USA, a refugee advocacy group, explaining the extensive vetting refugees go through before being admitted.

Ricketts, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds and South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem referenced those procedures in a letter to Trump dated Thursday thanking him for actions he’s taken to strengthen the process.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7226 or mreist@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSreist

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Education reporter

Margaret Reist is a Lincoln native, the mom of three high school graduates now navigating college and an education junkie who covers students, teachers and policymakers inside and outside the K-12 classroom.

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