News that the city of Rutland would be accepting 100 Syrian refugees from their war-torn country is a win on many levels.
It's a win first and foremost for the 100 people who have been stranded in refugee camps and living for years under conditions most of us would find difficult in the extreme. Many, if not all of them are folks who would never have imagined such a fate only before the political and sectarian crisis which has shattered their homeland broke out in 2011. These are productive, hardworking people who have the same hopes and dreams of a better life that have inspired immigrants to these shores since the first settlements made in what was to become the United States. And like all the generations before and those yet to come, they will make their mark and contribution towards making the nation an even better place.
Secondly, it's a win for Vermont, and Rutland in particular. They will occupy now-vacant homes, send kids to schools, and fill job openings. They will bring their measure of diversity and culture to their new homeland and home town, and while it's unlikely this will be a completely Cinderella-esque story from start to finish, it's going to make Rutland, a city that has seen its share of hard times in recent years and decades, a more interesting place than it already may be.
The relatively small number of Syrians are part of a larger group of about 10,000 the U.S. has committed to take as our share of the millions of people displaced by a multi-sided conflict that has reduced once great cities to ruins. It is a pathetically small number compared to what we could and should be offering shelter and opportunity to. These hardworking, entrepreneurial and ambitious folks would make an outsized contribution to our economy and cultural life, if given the chance.
The concern of course has been that ISIS or one of the other mindless, criminal terror groups which hold such sad sway in the Middle East will see an opportunity to sneak in and infiltrate a person or group of people who will eventually foment some sort of incident along the lines of the Boston Marathon bombing of three years ago, or worse. This is highly unlikely given the extensive screening and background checking these folks have had to endure. ISIS or other terror groups don't need to lodge a follower for years in refugee camps and hope for the best. They seem to have no trouble finding folks, like the shooters in the San Bernardino, Calif. tragedy last year, who are already here, are U.S. citizens, and already have their warped issues.
Rutland's mayor, Christopher Louras, has been taken to task for blindsiding his Board of Aldermen and other city officials by not cluing them in to what was afoot earlier in the process. He is an elected official in his own right, not an appointee of the aldermen, so he was within his rights to move forward on the plan in conjunction with the U.S. State Department. We can only imagine the uproar from those who see terror suspects hiding under every tree if he had gone public first and prematurely to test the waters. It would have created a political back-and-forth that was eminently unnecessary. Instead, he showed leadership, and did the right thing for his city.
Hopefully, many more Vermont towns will have the chance to follow Rutland, where job and housing markets permit. We could use a few of these folks here, but the sad state of the housing market in this neck of the woods makes that unlikely.
Meanwhile, Rutland's historic melting pot role will continue into the 21st century. Job well done, Mr. Mayor.