By Emmitt B. Feldner
for The Beacon
SHEBOYGAN – Sheboygan County will continue to be open for resettlement of vetted refugees.
The County Board Tuesday accelerated action on a resolution consenting to continue accepting the placement of such refugees in 2020.
“We’re not making any changes to past practices and procedures,” County Administrator Adam Payne emphasized in his report to the board.
“We’re not changing practices, we’re not changing who is involved, we’re not changing any procedures in Sheboygan County. We’re doing just as we always have in the past,” he stated.
The resolution came in response to an executive order issued by President Donald Trump last October requiring states and counties to agree to accept refugees. Under the order, such a letter had to be filed by Dec. 20 in order for local agencies to continue placements in 2020.
That led the board to forego the usual referral to a second committee and take action on the resolution Tuesday.
That did not sit well with Supervisor Thomas Epping, who questioned the need for the resolution. “Seeing as this process already works in Sheboygan County, I just wonder if we’re being redundant here,” he asked.
“If we wait for the January meeting, it would be too late,” Board Chair Thomas Wegner responded. “We needed to pull this in order for groups (that aid refugee placements) to apply for aid.”
“If the County Board does not approve this resolution, there will not be resettlement in this area. The executive order requires that,” added Corporation Counsel Crystal Fieber.
“It’s a matter of revalidating existing rules that are already in place,” Supervisor Henry Nelson said. “These people are vetted and ready to work, and we need workers in Sheboygan County.”
In his remarks, Payne emphasized that the resolution deals with refugees and not with illegal aliens.
“I hope you appreciate that this is different from what you sometimes see on the news,” Payne commented.
He explained that the refugees covered under the resolution undergo an extensive vetting process, usually taking about two years and involving eight different federal agencies.
The county has been accepting such refugees since 1976, Payne continued. The annual number of refugees has ranged in recent years from none in 2019 to 103 in 2016.
Wegner pointed out that the requirement of a consent letter from the county was something new as a result of the executive order. “Previously, we weren’t asked for this,” he told the board.
“We have a good program that is handled by volunteer groups,” Supervisor Jim Baumgart said of the resettlement effort.
He said that, among other things, failing to pass the resolution might mean refugees already settled in Sheboygan County might not be able to resettle other family members here.
Payne and Wegner both pointed out that failing to meet the consent letter deadline could jeopardize the ability of local agencies to access federal funds to support settlement efforts.
Epping remained unconvinced, stating, “I’m kind of leery of passing this, if there won’t be something that will rear its ugly head in the future.”
In the end, the resolution was adopted by a vote of 23-1, with Epping voting no and Supervisor Brian Hilbelink absent.
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Payne reported that ground has been broken on the $5 million U.S. Customs facility at the Sheboygan County Memorial Airport.
“We hope to have it ready for the Ryder Cup in 2020,” he said of the facility, which he termed “an investment in our community and our economy.”
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Payne updated the board on the first year of enhanced security at the Sheboygan County Courthouse.
“The courthouse is a safer place as a result,” of the enchancements, which include limiting public access to one entrance with security screening.