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Chippewa Valley refugee resettlement spawns now approved state legislation

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(The Center Square) – Wisconsin lawmakers don’t want to see another refugee debate like the current one in the Chippewa Valley.

Both the State Assembly and the State Senate last week approved a piece of legislation that would force local leaders to share any plans about resettling refugees with both their communities, and with local state lawmakers.

Rep. Karen Hurd, R-Fall Creek, said the legislation is in direct response to how Eau Claire handled its plans to resettle 75 refugees in the Chippewa Valley sometime this year.

“[This plan] ensures that elected officials, the people’s representatives at the local level, are part of the consultation process when refugees are being placed,” Hurd said.

A private non-profit, World Relief, has never said just where the 75 refugees are coming from or what they will do and where they will live once they are resettled.

Locals in Eau Claire and Chippewa Falls say they didn’t find out about the resettlement effort until after it was a done deal.

There continues to be local opposition. Chippewa County’s board approved a resolution earlier this month that officially asks for a pause in the resettlement operation. Eau Claire County’s board rejected a similar proposal back in January.

“Community members affected by a resettlement process would feel far more confident if there are deliberate steps taken to make sure everyone is on the same page,” Rep. Rob Summerfield, R-Bloomer, said. “This bill will help make sure that the public has input into a decision like this so that everyone is aware of the steps that need to be taken.”

Federal law requires any refugee resettlement effort be communicated with local leaders, but the law doesn’t specifically say who that includes. The plan from Wisconsin lawmakers, AB 1004, would do just that. The legislation would also ensure that contacts between the federal government and local officials are made public, and that voters get an opportunity to have their voices heard.

The plan now heads to Gov. Tony Evers’ desk.

“After the debate in the Assembly, it is clear that the Democrats want local leaders, elected representatives, and the locals kept in the dark when it comes to the federal government looking to relocate refugees into Wisconsin communities,” Rep. Joy Goeben, R-Hobart said. “Common sense dictates that a local community, their leaders and public safety.” officers should at least have prior knowledge and input into the plans for relocation.”

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