Mayor, others on Appleton council say alderman's resolution has undertones they don't like.
APPLETON, Wis. — An alderman said he has serious concerns about 75 refugees relocating to this city of 73,000 later this year, setting off a furious response from City Hall.
The region needs to be sure it's prepared for any challenges with the resettlement that is expected to bring immigrants from Congo, Iraq and Myanmar, said Jeff Jirschele, who represents a portion of Appleton's south side.
"I'm worried about these people and our social safety net when they arrive," Jirschele said. "These are real people and real lives. … We have no room to flounder on housing or medical care."
Jirschele introduced a resolution this past week with tough language aimed at World Relief Fox Valley, the Oshkosh, Wis., group shepherding the resettlement. It is part of a larger organization established in 1944 that has offices in 13 states and 16 countries.
He said the group had "not been vetted" and called for an immediate suspension of all city efforts in the relocation until the group could identify the effect of absorbing the refugees into the community.
"We need to slow down and take a breath," Jirschele said. "I'm already hearing some folks that think this resolution is cold hearted, but the reality is good intentions aren't good enough to produce a successful outcome."
Jirschele's sentiment hit a nerve Thursday among fellow aldermen and Mayor Tim Hanna.
Hanna rattled off a list of community partners — including Goodwill, the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley, school districts, churches, health care providers and county agencies — that are preparing for the resettlement.
"There are some undertones (in the resolution) that make assumptions about these people as being poor or a drain on us," Hanna said. "But quite the opposite: These are the diverse people I want in our city."
Hanna pointed to a successful Hmong resettlement to the Fox Valley as an example of the community's ability to fold in a new population.
"I don't think it matters if we're ready. They're ready," Alderman Tim Trauger said. "These are people by definition in serious trouble, facing violence, rape and slavery. We'll find a way, and we'll welcome them."
This is the third year for resettlement operations for World Relief, which already has moved 174 people to the Fox Valley, largely from Burma, another name for Myanmar.
The group works aggressively to find jobs for the adult refugees, said Myriam Mwizerwa, the Oshkosh office director.
"Our main goal is to get refugees employed within a year so they can support themselves," Mwizerwa said. "We see very few refugees accessing, let alone staying on welfare programs like cash assistance or food stamps."
She considers it good for a city to have a discussion around the refugees.
"We can't communicate all of their needs until we meet the individuals," she said.
Nick Penzenstadler also reports for The (Appleton, Wis.) Post-Crescent.