Earlier this week, Mayor Domenic Sarno sent a letter to the state department, asking they stop placing refugees in the city.
In a statement Friday afternoon, Sarno said it is not an attack on refugees, but a coalition of various organizations and agencies believe that group is being singled out.
"We do see this as a huge setback in the relations between the city government and the refugee community here," said Frank Soults, of the Massachusetts Immigration and Refugee Advocacy Coalition.
Soults was one of several speakers at Friday's press conference. Organizers said that refugees hold a different status than immigrants.
"Refugees are invited into our country," said Archbishop Timothy Paul, of the Council of Churches of Western Mass. "They cannot return to their homes for fear of persecution and they're re-settled in our community."
Organizations are designed to help refugees settle into their new homes, one that is vetted by a housing agency. But, like any other resident, refugees do not need to stay there.
"So if a family doesn't like it, they find something cheaper, or someone tells them, 'Hey, I know some place, want to move?' they do," said Jozefina Lantz, from Lutheran Social Services. "That's why they are here, to be free."
Coalition organizers believe Sarno has bad information. They said West Springfield has taken in more refugees in recent years than Springfield.
"It's certainly a community that is smaller and has far less resources than Springfield," said Kathryn Buckley-Brawner, executive director of Catholic Charities. "So, we objected to the fact that it was made to appear that burden of all the refugees was here in this city."
With the city focused on economic development projects, including the proposed $800 million MGM casino resort, the coalition is afraid of seeing refugees pushed to the side.
"It seems as though, as we're turning the economic page and we're concentrating on this new economic development, we're also disenfranchising the poorest of our community," said Paul.
In part of Sarno's statement Friday afternoon, he said, "I deeply and sincerely care about the plight of refugees. This is a call to review the agencies in question."
Sarno went on to say that he is willing to sit down and meet with the coalition, but he wants them to be more involved with the city's leadership as it pertains to refugee decisions.
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