Aurora wades through efforts to support refugees and immigrants

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Victoria Sanchez listens to Roslyn Rudnick during an ESL class on Monday April 13, 2015 at the Aurora Welcome Center. (Photo by Gabriel Christus/Aurora Sentinel)

AURORA | Aurora lawmakers agreed Monday night to join two national organizations focused on providing resources to immigrants seeking citizenship. 

Aurora City Council members agreed unanimously on joining the Welcoming America Network, joining a second national pro-immigrant effort was more controversial. 

The group originally mulled joining Cities for Citizenship, which was discussed at a study session in December. Staff said during Monday’s vote that they were directed during the study session to join Cities for Citizenship after a 6-4 vote in favor. 

Some city council members said they felt uneasy about the group’s board of directors, which includes New York City mayor Bill De Blasio, former Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti along with the National Partnership for New Americans and the Center for Popular Democracy formed Cities For Citizenship in 2014.

At the study session, Councilwoman Francoise Bergan said those names would “send up a lot of red flags” to some Aurora residents. Council members Marsha Berzins and Dave Gruber reiterated their dissatisfaction with joining the group on Monday, saying they’d spoken with constituents who didn’t want the city to be a part of that.

Originally the city would have paid $750 to join Cities for Citizenship, but a fee was waived for all joining groups, according to city staff. 

Later this month the body is set to consider a resolution that affirms to the federal government that the city consents to refugees resettlement. The decision will be in response to an unusual executive order from the Trump Administration, which was issued in September. 

Refugees, after strict vetting, can be resettled throughout the U.S., but will now only be allowed to benefit from resettlement agencies in the first 90 days of their residency in municipalities that declare they consent to refugee resettlement. 

In the last two years Aurora has become home to at least 335 designated refugees, but that number has sharply decreased because of changes to the program made by the Trump Administration. 

Jennifer Wilson, executive director of the International Rescue Committee in Denver, said it’s not likely that the entire state will see more than 300 refugees resettled this year.

Without consenting to refugee resettlement, refugees arriving in the U.S. can still decide to live in Aurora, but they wouldn’t benefit from many services provided from resettlement agencies. Wilson said that could present issues for arriving refugees who already have family in Aurora.

“It really comes to the heart of the question of who we are as a city and it forces (us) to confront (whether) we want to continue be a welcoming city to all who want to call it home or do we want to fence it off?” Mayor Mike Coffman told the Sentinel of the decision the lawmakers will have to make.

The city council could have decided to allow Coffman, a former Republican congressman, to pen a letter to the U.S. State Department consenting refugee resettlement. Coffman said he believed the resolution to be a better option and plans to support it.