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Catholic Charities Surprised by LePage Plan to Withdraw Maine from Refugee Resettlement Program

The organization that resettles refugees in Maine, Catholic Charities, is exploring its options following Gov. Paul LePage’s announcement last week that Maine will no longer participate in the federal Refugee Resettlement Program. If the plan goes through, Maine will join 12 other states that have also withdrawn from the program.

In a letter sent to President Barack Obama on Friday, LePage said Maine is withdrawing from the Refugee Resettlement Program because he has lost confidence in the federal government’s ability to safely and responsibly run it. He cited the example of a refugee who lived in Freeport but fled to Syria and died fighting for the Islamic State last year.

Still, Judy Katzel of Catholic Charities, an organization that has resettled refugees in Maine for 40 years, says she’s surprised at the governor’s decision.

“Well, we’ve always had a really good working relationship on the Refugee Resettlement Program with the state, so we were very disappointed that we weren’t contacted directly,” she says.

Katzel says she has complete confidence in the vetting process for refugees, which she says typically starts when an individual enters a refugee camp, where they often live 18 months or longer.

“Just from a practical standpoint, if someone wanted to be a terrorist, or wanted to come here with terrorist intentions, there are probably much quicker ways to get into our country or any other country than through the refugee program,” she says.

In most other states that have opted out of the Refugee Resettlement Program, a nonprofit voluntary agency becomes the administrator of the program to distribute federal funds. Katzel says it’s unclear at this point who would become the administrator in Maine.

For LePage’s part, he vowed to radio talk show host Howie Carr on Friday that no one in his administration will help with the federal resettlement program.

“If we find any undocumented people in the state of Maine, which I cannot put in jail, I’m going to buy them a ticket — a bus ticket. I’m going to buy them a lobster roll,” LePage says.

“A lobster roll? Boy, you’re a sport,” Carr says.

“It’s a long ride to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave,” LePage says.

Last year, LePage was one of more than 30 governors who unsuccessfully asked the federal government to stop resettling Syrian refugees until proper vetting procedures were established.