By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily
A Cheyenne resident and University of Wyoming law professor are criticizing the fact that Wyoming is still the only state without a refugee resettlement program in the nation, making it difficult for the state to accept Ukrainian refugees.
Cheyenne resident and attorney Boyd Wiggam, whose wife is from Ukraine, told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday that he is disappointed at the lack of a program, as it essentially tells refugees that they are not welcome in Wyoming.
“This is something that has bothered me ever since I was in law school,” he said. “When I think of the United States, I think of a place that’s made up of the leftovers and misfits of the rest of the world. The lesson we should be taking away when it comes to these refugees, they are literally displaced by war. This should not even be controversial.”
He added it was “cruel” and “selfish” of the state and its legislators to not cooperate to launch a refugee resettlement program so individuals, charities and groups can better help refugees in need.
Wiggam noted that his church ran into several issues when attempting to help refugee families fleeing their countries, both from Afghanistan and Ukraine, partially due to the lack of resettlement program.
“If we’re really going to build a warm, welcoming, vibrant community made up with people who are community builders and are givers, we need to be able to let those who want to give be able to give were giving is needed,” Wiggam said. “What’s going on right now eliminate some of the arguments that you hear against encouraging refugees to settle in Wyoming.”
UW law professor Jerry Fowler told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday he also believed there was benefit to having a refugee resettlement program in the state, even if there aren’t many refugees even coming into the United States every year and even fewer that would resettle in Wyoming.
“Historically, refugees have strengthened our country,” he said. “I think we are doing our state a disservice by not welcoming refugees. America is an idea that welcomes people who are fleeing persecution, like Ukrainians or our Afghan allies. Or is it a fortress, designed to keep people out?”
Fowler pointed out that there was an effort to establish a Wyoming resettlement program about six or seven years ago, but vocal opposition by some, who Fowler said were making unrealistic complaints, convinced then-Gov. Matt Mead not to go forward with the program.
Gov. Mark Gordon’s spokesman Michael Pearlman told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday that the governor’s office has not been contacted about accepting Ukrainian refugees since the Russian invasion began.
“The Governor has been consistent on his position on refugees since late August, when he touched on this issue during a speech in Teton County,” Pearlman said. “At that time he said that before the state would consider taking refugees, we would want to have conversations with individuals, federal agencies and others to make sure (the refugees) were properly vetted.”
Pearlman added that Gordon believes Ukrainians deserve America’s compassion and support, and added that the Legislature may want to engage in wider discussions about the refugee resettlement program.
Wiggam said he understood the Legislature’s Joint Labor, Health and Social Services Committee was going to study the question of whether it would take up a resettlement program as an interim study.
The Legislative Service Office on Wednesday told Cowboy State Daily that all committee proposals for interim studies will be submitted for approval to the Legislature’s Management Council during an April 8 meeting.