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State, New Castle County and Wilmington consent to continue receiving refugees

Sophia Schmidt, Delaware Public Media
Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki (center) and New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer (right) sign letters to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo alongside refugees and service providers

Delaware agreed to continue receiving refugees in response to an executive order signed by President Trump this fall giving states and localities more control over whether refugees resettle in their jurisdiction. 

Gov. John Carney sent a letter to the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last week consenting to continue accepting refugee resettlement in Delaware. An executive order signed by the President in September states that refugees should not be resettled in states and localities that have not consented to receive refugees.

New Castle County and the City of Wilmington leadership also signed letters Wednesday agreeing to continue receiving refugees. 

New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer says refugees make America stronger.

“We’re here today to stand up to a president who turns away refugees, who scapegoats immigrants and governs with selfish cowardice instead of compassion,” he said at a media event Wednesday. “We’re here today to send a message to our president and to those across our country that we will continue to house refugees in our community.”

Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki called it a “pity” officials had to sign such letters. 

Pathy Mulema is a refugee from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where he fled war. He resettled in Newark, Delaware, last year. He says when he first got here, America felt like “heaven.” 

“I’m working,” he said. “I’ve got my family in a nice place. My children go to school. Me, I work, I’m fine.  I’m feeling comfortable.”

But Mulema still has children in Africa who he is working to bring to the U.S. Officials from Jewish Family Services of Delaware, which resettles refugees in the state, say the family would not be able to be reunited in Delaware under the executive order if the state did not consent to continue receiving refugees. 

Jewish Family Services CEO Basha Silverman says her organization is working to encourage Kent and Sussex counties to offer their consent, but the two lower counties have not yet done so.

“If refugees are not welcome in Delaware, then the national refugee resettlement agencies — HIAS and the eight others— will do everything they possibly can to divert them to a state that will welcome them,” she said. 

She argues the letters of consent from the state and localities are still needed. “All of the support that we can pull together in this state from elected officials, local municipalities and our advocates is necessary. We need to show the [U.S.] Secretary [of State,] the President, the Administration that there’s no doubt  about it, Delaware is open, welcoming, ready, willing. So we need the letters.”

According to Jewish Family Services, close to sixty refugees were resettled to Delaware as primary migrants in the past five years. The organization did not resettle any primary migrants to Delaware this year, but worked with 35 secondary migrants, who span the three counties. 


Sophia Schmidt is a Delaware native. She comes to Delaware Public Media from NPR’s Weekend Edition in Washington, DC, where she produced arts, politics, science and culture interviews. She previously wrote about education and environment for The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA. She graduated from Williams College, where she studied environmental policy and biology, and covered environmental events and local renewable energy for the college paper.
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