Despite the House easily passing a bill that would suspend the program allowing Syrian and Iraqi refugees into America until key security agencies certify that they don’t pose a security risk, District area lawmakers and officials said they’d still welcome those from the war-torn terrorist hotbeds.
“I feel strongly that we should be welcoming refugees from all over the world, as is our country’s proud heritage,” said D.C. At-large Councilman David Grosso, an independent.
“I am very disappointed in other local elected officials who are demonizing those fleeing violence – refugees – as perpetrators of violence. Whether a refugee is from Syria, Eritrea, Honduras, or somewhere else, in D.C. and the country broadly we should be doing more to welcome them and help them be safe,” said Grosso, 44.
The anti-refugee rhetoric advanced by leaders in several states across the country is shameful and the District takes pride in being a welcoming place for immigrants from all over the world,” said Democratic District Councilwoman Brianne K. Nadeau, who represents Ward 1.
“We are already one of the most diverse and international cities in the world. While the District has no influence over the Syrian refugee program, which is operated by the federal government, we have adopted a sanctuary city policy, we have programs in place that help immigrants receive ID cards, and recently I co-introduced a bill that would allow immigrants with green cards to vote in local elections,” said Nadeau, 36.
“America and the District are stronger for the contributions of immigrants,” she said.
On Nov. 19, the House voted 289-137, with 47 Democrats joining 242 Republicans in favor of the bill that would limit the acceptance of Syrian refugees.
“It’s offensive,” D.C. Councilwoman At-Large Elissa Silverman, an Independent, said.
“I think it’s contrary to our country’s approach for centuries now to be welcoming of people fleeing oppressive governments,” said Silverman, 42. “We have been a model for the world in welcoming people and the promise of Democracy is to be able to combine people of various backgrounds and experiences. In terms of business, creativity in the arts, this is what’s made us a model and more countries are becoming like us.”
Mayor Muriel Bowser also said the District would welcome Syrian and other refugees who are seeking to escape oppression.
However, the passage of the bill to limit the acceptance of the refugees has created a majority that could override President Barack Obama’s promised veto.
The bill also faces an uncertain future in the Senate, where Minority Leader Harry Reid said he will try to block the bill, according to CNN.
Further, a growing list of Republican governors around the country has said they would refuse refugees, despite federal law which empowers only the president to make that decision.
The Refugee Act of 1980 authorizes the president to admit refugees who face persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.
The Act also created the Federal Refugee Resettlement Program to provide for the effective resettlement of refugees and to assist them to achieve economic self-sufficient as quickly as possible after their arrival.
“The Congressional Black Caucus holds the safety of our homeland as its number one priority, and we take seriously our humanitarian responsibility to vulnerable populations that are under attack and desperately fleeing severe violence and persecution,” CBC Chair G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C.
“The fabric of America is built on the premise that those who seek refuge should be able to find it here and the [CBC] is committed to upholding longstanding American principles of providing refuge to individuals whose lives have been ravaged by war and violence,” said Butterfield, 68.
“The Paris attacks were heinous and reprehensible and our hearts go out to the individuals who have been impacted by these events. Therefore, America cannot disregard the significance of our historic commitment to providing refuge for those who desperately need it. To turn a blind eye to the struggles of others, regardless of where they are from, is sad and has no place in American society.”
However, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, said refugees still wouldn’t be allowed in the Garden State.
When asked in a radio interview this week if he would make an exception for orphans under the age of five, Christie said no.
“The fact is that we need appropriate vetting and I don’t think orphans under five are being, you know, should be admitted into the United States at this point . . . How are we going to care for these folks?” said Christie, 53.
Pennsylvania’s Democratic Sen. Robert Casey, said the United States has a rigorous process for vetting refugee applicants, which includes several in-person interviews by American officials, security checks by multiple agencies, significant documentation and a health screening.
“This process, which is the most rigorous vetting in the world, takes over a year. The process requires refugees to be vetted by the National Counterterrorism Center, the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State and Defense,” said Casey, 55.
The review process includes biometric and biographic checks, interviews by specially trained officers who scrutinize the applicant’s explanation of individual circumstances to ensure the applicant is a genuine refugee and is not known to present security concerns to the United States.
It also includes an additional layer of enhanced classified screening measures for those refugees from Syria and, according to protocol; the U.S. Government prioritizes admitting the most vulnerable Syrians, particularly female-headed households, children, survivors of torture, and individuals with severe medical conditions.
“I believe that our nation has a moral obligation to help those fleeing oppression and persecution. In fact, it’s a sentiment as old as our country’s founding,” said Ward 6 Democratic Councilman Charles Allen.
“I would welcome Syrian families to our city and I believe the Obama Administration has a very strong and thorough refuge and asylum system in place,” said Allen, 37.
“When I see the comments by some of the leaders in our country – sharing hate, fear, and bigotry – I know that they do not represent the best in us nor the values we share in the District of Columbia.”