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Erie County is a refugee-welcoming community, Poloncarz tells Trump Administration

Kyle S. Mackie
Advocates lend their support for Erie County's stance to continue welcoming refugees.

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz is sending a clear message to the Trump administration: Send more refugees here. Poloncarz and other county executives across the country are now required to opt-in to allow future refugee resettlement in their districts.

When Poloncarz says Erie County will continue to resettle refugees—legal immigrants fleeing war and persecution who have been vetted and granted a special protected status—he doesn’t just mean in Buffalo. Speaking at a press conference at The International Institute of Buffalo Tuesday, he listed every city and town in the county by name.

"The towns of Alden, Amherst, Aurora, Boston, Brant, Cheektowaga [and] Clarence," he said, "... North Collins, Orchard Park, Sardinia, Tonawanda, West Seneca are all welcoming for refugees."

And Poloncarz sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo saying so this week. That’s because President Trump issued an Executive Order at the end of September that said states and localities have to inform the government in writing by Dec. 20 if they want to continue receiving refugees. The order thereby gives local officials the right to block refugee resettlement.

Credit Kyle S. Mackie / WBFO News
International Institute of Buffalo Executive Director Eva Hassett (l) and Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz announce their support for welcoming refugees.

"The Trump Administration's executive order, giving state and local governments the authority to block refugee resettlement in their jurisdictions, it keeps families apart and it prevents willing and able American communities from welcoming people in need of safety," said Karen Andolina Scott, executive director of Journey’s End Refugee Services.

"I’m hopeful that local and state leaders will do what we did here in Erie County and in New York State, with Governor Cuomo doing a similar letter," Poloncarz said. "We just never should have been put into this position in the first place, but if the position is going to be placed on myself, I'm going to say we’re a welcoming community."

The executive order is being challenged in U.S. District Court in Maryland, but is still scheduled to go into effect on Dec. 26. President Trump also set the lowest cap on refugee admissions in history for the coming year: 18,000 for the entire country.

Erie County resettled a high of nearly 2,000 refugees in 2016. That number fell to just 295 last year.

Kyle Mackie is a multimedia journalist with reporting experience in Israel and the Palestinian territories, the Western Balkans and New York City. She joined WBFO to cover education and more in June 2019.