Obama’s plan to bring Muslim migrants draws fierce opposition from Montana residents. A public hearing on a proposed letter opposing the settlement of Syrian refugees in Ravalli County and the surrounding area drew hundreds on Thursday afternoon.
The Ravalli County Commission hosted the meeting, which had to be moved three times to accommodate the crowd, the Missoulian reported.
About 500 people settled into the bleachers at the Hamilton Junior High School gym for a meeting that garnered a large cheer when the commissioners announced it would begin with the Pledge of Allegiance and included a loud emphasis from the crowd on the words “under God” during its recital.
The commissioners recently released their proposed letter to the U.S. State Department that opposed the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the county and surrounding area. The draft letter expressed concerns about the community’s safety due to government’s inability to adequately vet the refugees to ensure they don’t belong to a terrorist organization.
The push-back was sparked by an announcement recently by two nonprofits – Soft Landing Montana and WorldMontana – that they plan to work with the federal government to bring Syrian refugees to Big Sky Country. The plan is to resettle the Syrians in the Helena area and in Missoula County, a neighboring county to the north of Ravalli County.
Wyoming and Montana are the two exceptions. Wyoming is the only state that does not participate in the federal refugee program. Montana has not received any refugees since 2009 and only 61 have been sent there since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Rep. Nancy Ballance, R-Hamilton, said the resettlement of refugees is “big business” that generates millions of dollars for the organizations involved. She said the governor’s decision to allow Syrian refugees to settle in Montana was an effort to obtain some of that federal funding.
“He was saying Montana is open for business,” Ballance said. “Make no mistake about it, refugee resettlement is big business.”
Many said they feared radical Islam and the potential for terrorism. Some pointed to problems that European countries are having with refugees they have accepted. Others said this country needs to take care of veterans and the homeless first.
Hollis Poe of Hamilton told the commission he was starting a new organization called Advancing Conservatism.
Poe contended the issue really isn’t about resettlement of refugees. Instead, Poe said it’s about setting the stage for martial law.
“ISIS will come after our women,” he said. “They are going to find that in Ravalli County, women pack weapons.”
Phil Liggins of Hamilton said that Allah and the God of the Bible were not one and the same.
“The U.S. may not be at war with Islam, but Islam is at war with the U.S.,” he said.
The meeting concluded shortly before 4 p.m. to allow for basketball practice in the gym.
The commissioners reconvened back in their meeting room where they voted unanimously to approve a version of the letter that added information about potential impacts to the community’s economy, culture, health, safety and welfare.
Commissioner Jeff Burrows said it didn’t take very long for the commissioners to come to that decision following the meeting.
“We heard loud and clear that people were concerned about impacts to the economy and infrastructure,” Burrows said. “From the commissioners’ point of view, this wasn’t about race or religion. This was about impacts to local services and impacts to public health, safety and welfare in Ravalli County.”
The federal government is working with churches and NGOs to bring foreign refugees, including some from Syria, to the cities of Helena and Missoula.