New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell has informed the Trump administration that the city still wants to participate in the federal refugee resettlement program.

Mitchell sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in December affirming that New Bedford wants to "opt in" to welcoming refugees. The move follows a Sept. 26 executive order from President Donald Trump that requires such letters from states and cities that are not opposed to participating in the federal program.

The letter describes refugees as hard-working people who have opened small businesses and helped revitalize neighborhoods, the Standard-Times reports. It also praises the State Department's refugee resettlement program as a public-private partnership that "provides refugees with the tools of self-reliance: housing, community orientation, English-language classes, and job placement."

Mitchell's office said the mayoral letter to Pompeo does not reflect any change in policy in New Bedford.

Back in November, Mitchell joined mayors from across the United States in writing to Pompeo urging Trump to rescind the executive order "and return this year's refugee admissions to previous annual levels." The Trump administration reduced the number of refugees who may enter the country this fiscal year to 18,000, a cut of approximately 80 percent from the levels of just a few years ago.

The November letter from the United States Conference of Mayors said refugees "contribute meaningfully to our economy as earners and taxpayers" and suggested that any initial assistance they receive tends to pay for itself. "Their entrepreneurship rate is greater than that of other immigrants, as are their long-term investments in the country, including founding companies, earning citizenship, and buying homes," the letter states.

The U.S. mayors said that Trump's order requiring affirmative consent "would fundamentally change the structure of the U.S. resettlement program by devolving key decisions primarily to the states and ultimately lead to a patchwork of conflicting policies running contrary to the purpose of a national resettlement program."

It could be that Mitchell's December letter -- the one that officially notifies the Trump administration of New Bedford's wish to keep participating -- will be moot. Trump's executive order is the subject of a lawsuit filed by several refugee resettlement charities. On Jan. 15, a federal judge in Maryland issued an injunction, putting a temporary halt to the order.  The halt will stay in place until the judge issues a final order.

As a result of the injunction, the federal government has stopped processing or publishing consents from states and localities. Prior to the injunction, 42 states had given their consent, as well as the Massachusetts communities of Easthampton, Holyoke, Northampton and West Springfield,

Refugee resettlement in Massachusetts has fallen steeply. In 2016, 2,433 refugees arrived in Massachusetts, mostly from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ukraine, and Afghanistan. In 2018, that number had fallen to 619, according to the Standard-Times.

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