PHOENIX (AP) - Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey told President Donald Trump's administration Friday the state will continue its tradition of welcoming refugees, cheering resettlement agencies that have lobbied the state and local governments to keep opening their arms to people fleeing war and other horrific situations in their native countries.
Ducey wrote in a letter to Secretary of State Michael Pompeo that Arizona has historically been among the most welcoming states for resettling refugees who have been vetted by a host of U.S. agencies long before they enter the United States.
"Refugees arriving in the United States have been vetted and approved by the appropriate national security agencies and Department of State and have been granted legal entry to make a new home in the land of the free," Ducey wrote. He said that as Arizona's governor, "I consent to initial refugee resettlement in Arizona as per terms of the President's Executive Order."
Resettlement agencies around the United States have been scrambling to get written consent from local officials since Trump in September issued an executive order allowing states and cities to reject refugees. At least five states, including Utah, have signaled they will keep accepting refugees, and no governor has said they plan to keep them out. Several resettlement agencies sued last month seeking to halt the order.
Ducey's order is not the final determination on whether refugees will be completely allowed in Arizona. Under the executive order, individual counties and other localities could vote to block refugees from being allowed in their jurisdictions.
But because the State Department has not specified which officials are authorized to give their approval - government, mayor or county board of supervisors - resettlement agencies in Arizona have lobbied all levels of governments to tell the U.S. administration they continue to support having refugees in their areas. Virtually all refugees brought to Arizona are resettled in Phoenix, Glendale and Tucson, communities the agencies say have traditionally supported resettlement.
"Arizona has long been a welcoming state for refugees who contribute to our state as neighbors, workers, and business owners," said Stanford Prescott, spokesman for the International Rescue Committee in Arizona, which settles the most refugees in Arizona. "Thank you to Gov. Doug Ducey for continuing this tradition."
"We are very grateful that Gov. Ducey signed the letter," said Connie Phillips, president and CEO executive director of Phoenix-based Lutheran Social Services of the Southwest, another leading refugee resettlement agency in Arizona. "Refugees bring so much to our state economically and culturally. And they come in a very safe way, fully vetted outside the United States."
Arizona ranks eighth among states for refugee resettlement. The number plunged from 4,110 people in fiscal year 2016 to 998 in 2018, then rose slightly to 1,216 for the 12-month period that ended Sept. 30. About half are children. Those numbers don't include trafficking victims or people granted asylum.
Arizona's Republican House Speaker Rusty Bowers applauded Ducey's move, saying that the state is "one state is one that offers opportunity for all."
"We welcome people from all backgrounds, religions, and cultures to come here and share in that special spirit," he said.