Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno’s call for an end to refugee resettlement in the city has drawn a strong rebuttal from several social service agencies, faith- based groups, and anti-poverty activists.
A coalition including representatives of Catholic Charities, Council of Churches of Western Massachusetts, Jobs with Justice and several more groups that work with immigrants met in Springfield Friday and later held a news conference to call for a meeting with Mayor Sarno to discuss his claims that refugee resettlement had become a crisis in Springfield.
Rev. Susannah Crolius of the South Congregational Church in Springfield said she was taken aback by the mayor’s claims that refugees were causing a strain on housing, schools and public safety.
A spokesman for Mayor Sarno said he would be more than happy to meet with the group and added the mayor looks forward to a continued dialogue.
Earlier this week, Sarno’s office made public a four- page letter he sent to the U.S. State Department official in charge of refugee resettlement in which the mayor made an appeal for withholding permission and funding to put more refugees in Springfield.
Kathryn Buckley-Brawner , the executive director of Catholic Charities in Springfield said the mayor’s letter contained factual errors. She said it wrongly asserted that Springfield had taken in the majority of refugees resettled in western Massachusetts in recent years. State Department figures show West Springfield, a town with a population about one-fifth that of Springfield’s, became home to 1,216 refugees in the last three years, compared with 725 refugee resettlements in Springfield.
Sarno said in his letter to the State Department that last year city inspectors had discovered serious code violations in five buildings where refugees were living. The violations included disconnected smoke alarms, holes in the roofs and insect and vermin infestation.
Spokespeople for agencies that help place refugees insist they screen the housing where the immigrants go to live when they first arrive in a community, but later they are free to move, according to Jozefina Lantz of Lutheran Social Services.
Franklin Soults, of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition called the mayor’s actions a huge setback in relations between the city and the immigrant community.
Sarno, in a statement Friday, insisted he was not attacking refugees. He said he wanted to ensure that agencies responsible for housing refugees in Springfield are held accountable.