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Wyoming Rep. Brown says Afghan refugees should resettle in the state

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

The state of Wyoming has never, ever formally taken in a refugee. In fact, it's the only state that has never had a refugee resettlement program. But with the need to resettle Afghan refugees after the U.S. withdrawal in August, some people in the Cowboy State want to change that. Wyoming Representative Landon Brown is one of them, and he joins me now to talk about it.

Hello.

LANDON BROWN: Good morning. How are you?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I am well. Why do you want your state to resettle Afghan refugees in particular? What's changed?

BROWN: So I think it's pretty apparent that what the United States did to the Afghan people is abhorrent. We left our - these people high and dry with little to no way to make sure that they balanced what was going to occur when we pulled out all of our troops and everything that we had established for them as far as a government. And when we leave them with no place to go and persecution starts - that these people long for that freedom and long for that safety and security that we here in America all take for granted on a daily basis.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So how are you going about it?

BROWN: Currently, there's not a major bill in the works here within the state of Wyoming, mainly because of the pushback that we've seen in the past. However, there is ongoing discussions between myself and a few other counterparts in the state legislature as well as the governor's office to see what we can do about this. However, as I've stated in the past, it's a very difficult conversation to have here in Wyoming, strictly because of our small population and the fear of what that influx of immigrants may look like to our small population.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: A few years ago, there were anti-Islam protests and Koran burnings in Wyoming when there was a debate over the possibility of refugee resettlement then. It sounds like nothing really has changed there. In terms of what you call fear, some would call prejudice. What would you do to make sure that the refugees stay safe?

BROWN: Education is certainly one of the biggest things. But one of the biggest fears that the state of Wyoming citizens have is the outside fear and the non-understanding of what these people who are being persecuted against - either whether it's their faith or whether it's just because they're female or whatever their case may be, they are facing persecution in their homeland, and they're coming here to thrive off of that lifestyle of freedom. And we have to make sure that we continue to explain that to the people of Wyoming.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: May I ask you this, sir? I mean, you know, one of the things that when you talk about refugees or immigrants of any kind coming into an overwhelmingly white population - which Wyoming is - is not only that they, of course, bring something to that, but there is a sense that it opens up the community to other ways of thinking, to less fear, for example, as you mentioned. So I'm sort of wondering if you think that there is value to having a large community of people who may not understand the Wyoming culture as they perceive it there. Do you think that they would ultimately be made welcome?

BROWN: You know, I do think so, and I will bring to light the idea that although we don't have a refugee resettlement program, we certainly do have refugees that have moved here into this state. And here in Cheyenne, Wyo., where I am a representative out of, we're very close to the Colorado border, where there has been a strong influx of Somali refugees in the past 10 years and have established, you know, a core group and a core community of themselves. And there's absolutely - to my knowledge, there's very little to no prejudice, you know, against them. Now, that's not to say there's certainly not prejudice and certainly not things that happen outside of my, you know, views. However, it is - Wyoming is very much a - we will protect our own. We make sure that the people that live in Wyoming and drive with a Wyoming license plate on our cars - we want to make sure that they're all protected regardless of what your faith and what your religion may be.

You know, one of the sayings that we use as a mantra here in Wyoming is, Wyoming is what America was, and that's very much this Wild West, very openness and live-and-let-live mantra that goes on. But unfortunately, the world is changing around us, and we're stuck in the, you know, the - Wyoming doesn't want to really move along. And so that starts the problem of us being scared and being afraid of what might come in, so that's why I'm so supportive of this. And I think it's a very important piece for Wyoming to grow as a state - is to welcome these refugees in and have different viewpoints and different ideologies moving in as opposed to an echo chamber that we currently are.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Republican Wyoming Representative Landon Brown.

Thank you very much.

BROWN: Thank you, Lulu. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.