Montana politicians respond to resettlement of 75 Afghan refugees to Missoula

Gov. Greg Gianforte said Montana will welcome those seeking ‘freedom and safety’ after fleeing
the Taliban. U.S. Rep. Matt Rosendale said he
‘will not allow this Administration to compromise the safety of Montanans.’


by Mara Silvers

Montana Free Press


State and federal elected officials responded
with mixed messages Thursday to the news that 75 Afghan refugees fleeing the Taliban will be resettled
in Missoula over the coming weeks. Roughly 37,000 Afghan refugees will be coming to other states
across the U.S.

The U.S. State Department notified state and local leaders on Wednesday about the number of refugees they should expect. The notification prompted strong statements from Montana politicians, including many who said welcoming Afghan refugees is morally
correct after a chaotic withdrawal of U.S. forces in
July and August.

Gov. Greg Gianforte slammed the Biden administration in a statement Thursday, calling the withdrawal “ill-planned” and “catastrophic.” The process, he said, left American citizens vulnerable and abandoned Afghan allies who supported U.S. troops.

“Montana welcomes our fully-vetted Afghan allies who worked alongside us, have left their homes in
the face of the Taliban’s reemerging, merciless terror, and seek freedom and safety,” Gianforte said.

The governor’s message was echoed by Republican Sen. Steve Daines and Democratic Sen. Jon Tester, both of whom threw their weight behind the resettlement in separate statements Thursday.

“These folks helped save American lives on the battlefield and Montana will welcome them,” Tester wrote.

Through a spokesperson, Daines also critiqued
the Biden administration’s handling of the withdrawal and said he believes in a rigorous vetting process for refugees.

“We also need to honor our troops’ wishes and support those who put their lives at risk to assist U.S. service members, and the Senator encourages
Montanans to welcome the properly vetted brave
men and women, our allies, to the state,” the
statement said.

Those words of support were in sharp contrast to the reaction of Republican Rep. Matt Rosendale, Montana’s freshman at-large congressman. In a
statement released Thursday morning, Rosendale
cast doubt on the Biden administration’s ability to sufficiently vet the refugees who will be resettled in the U.S., given the rapid timeline of the withdrawal.

“I have advocated that we should try and settle these individuals in other countries around Afghanistan that share their values and culture, especially if we can not ensure proper vetting,” Rosendale’s statement said in part. “As elected officials, it is our duty to protect the citizens we represent — and I will not al

low this Administration to compromise the safety of Montanans.”

According to a transcript of a briefing for senior government officials released Tuesday by the U.S. State Department, the refugees in the process of being resettled are undergoing biometric and biographic screenings conducted by intelligence and counterterrorism professionals, the Department of Homeland Security and the  Department of Defense, as well as the FBI and other intelligence partners.

“The U.S. Government has worked with urgency and with care to enhance the screening and vetting operations to make them not only more efficient, but without compromising any national security,” the transcript said.

Rosendale’s position drew pointed criticism from current and former Montana officials, including
Helena Mayor Wilmot Collins, who himself settled
in Montana after leaving Liberia.

“This former refugee cannot wait to welcome them to Montana,” Collins wrote on Twitter. “Hopefully they’ll get involved in our communities and enrich our lives with their experiences and culture.”

State Sen. Ken Bogner, R-Miles City, a veteran and supporter of refugee resettlement, voiced his own perspective on the duty of the U.S. to protect its
foreign allies.

“Having been raised in MT I learned that when
you make a commitment to someone and shake their hand, you honor it,” Bogner wrote. “That’s what we did with Afghans that put their lives at risk to help
our government and military, I hope we can remember our Montana values and welcome those refugees.”

According to the news site Axios, the states
surrounding Montana range widely in how many
refugees they will be accepting. Wyoming and South Dakota are not currently reported to be receiving any refugees, while North Dakota is slated to take 49.
Idaho is accepting 420.

Montana is the fourth-largest state in the country with the 44th-largest population, according to the Montana Office of Tourism. It has one refugee re-
settlement office in Missoula, a local branch of the
International Rescue Committee that was reopened
in 2016 after initially working to resettle Hmong
refugees throughout the 1980s.

IRC Missoula expects arrivals to begin as soon as Oct. 1. While all of the 75 refugees will likely be resettled in Missoula, IRC Deputy Director Eamon Fahey said the national resettlement is “evolving,” and refugees may eventually be resettled in other Montana communities as well. Fahey said he doesn’t know
how many of the 75 refugees are children or adults.

“IRC Missoula is excited to play a role in getting vulnerable Afghans out of harm’s way, and our staff, partners, and community looks forward to providing these Afghans a Montana welcome to their new home,” Fahey said.

This story was updated Sept. 17, 2021, to include comment from the International Rescue Committee in Missoula.


Western Montana Mental Health staged to receive $4M as part of $18.3M in funding to restore statewide services

Press Release – 9.23.21


On Thursday, September 23, U.S. Senator Steve Daines announced that community mental health centers across Montana will be receiving $18.3
million to restore the delivery of clinical services
that were impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and help address the needs of Montanans seeking mental health and substance use disorder treatment

“Increasing access to mental health services is critical, especially as Montanans and Americans across the country have struggled throughout the pandemic with isolation, economic hardships and other challenges. The services provided by Montana’s community mental health centers can be a lifeline
for Montanans, so I’m glad to see these important resources being distributed across the state to help support our families and friends in need,” Daines said.

The funding will be disbursed to the following community mental health centers:


– $4,510,250 for A.W.A.R.E., Inc. in Anaconda

– $3,563,284 for Eastern Montana Community
Mental Health Center in Miles City

– $5,000,000 for Intermountain Deaconess
Children’s Services in Helena

– $726,280 for Mountain Home Montana in

– $3,999,936 for Western Montana Mental Health Center in Missoula

– $500,000 for Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch, Inc. in Billings

Daines voted for this funding December 2020.


“Restoring Community Mental Health in Montana will increase Montanans access to evidence-based, person- and family-centered integrated behavioral healthcare and improve the quality of community mental health and substance use disorder treatment services in western Montana.

The focus of this project is to improve crisis
system capacity throughout the Western Montana Mental Health Center service area and to improve care coordination for individuals entering services through the mental health crisis system, ensuring access to comprehensive, integrated behavioral health services for individuals with serious mental illness (SMI), substance use disorders (SUD), co-occurring mental and substance use disorders (COD), as well as youth and adolescents with serious
emotional disturbances (SED).”  – Montana DPHHS