Amid anti-immigration wave, some small towns welcome refugees with open arms

August 5, 2016

RUTLAND, Vermont — Mayor Christopher Louras sees trouble ahead for this small city of about 16,000 at the foot of the Green Mountains.

“It’s a strong, vibrant community but unless we do something to stem the population decline, we’re going to be in big, big trouble,” Louras said. “And it’s not just Rutland. Rutland is a microcosm of the state and small towns around the country.”

But the mayor sees a quick fix. He’s asked Vermont’s resettlement agency to send refugees to Rutland, and says they would help fill vacant housing and entry-level jobs to keep the economy moving.

It’s an approach small towns from Montana to Georgia are increasingly considering as they grapple with shrinking and aging populations.

The mayors of Central Falls, Rhode Island; Clarkston, Georgia; and Haledon, New Jersey, joined big-city mayors last year in signing a letter saying they had accepted Syrian refugees and would take more. And as some governors and members of Congress called for a halt to the arrival of refugees from Syria, the mayors of Normal, Urbana and Evanston in Illinois; Socorro, Texas; and Clearfield City, Utah, signed a letter that noted “the importance of continuing to welcome refugees to our country and to our cities.”

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