About 80 University of Maryland students demonstrated Thursday at the new Frederick Douglass Square on the College Park campus in protest of Gov. Larry Hogan’s attempt to keep Syrian refugees out of the state.
A light rain didn’t deter the students, who chanted “Don’t give in to racists’ fear, refugees are welcomed here” during the protest.
“The real issue here is fear. We cannot let ourselves be so blindsided by our fear,” Miranda Mlilo, 18, of Bethesda, Maryland, said to the crowd. “Everyone has a right to seek and enjoy another country’s asylum from persecution.”
The students used Frederick Douglass as a backdrop to symbolize his accomplishments as a Maryland native who fought for freedom, justice and human rights. A ceremony was held Wednesday, Nov. 18, to honor Douglass.
Afi Onyile, 19, of Abingdon, Maryland, said the Republican governor’s actions are similar to how blacks are treated by whites, especially being hurt and killed by police officers.
“We have white people every day who are terrorizing the black community, but we are not closing the border on them and their behavior,” she said. “That’s a threat to America. I can see it happening to me.”
Hogan’s decision comes after the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris that killed more than 100 people. French police and other officials are trying to determine if a Syrian refugee may have been involved.
“As governor of Maryland, the safety and security of Marylanders remains my first priority,” Hogan said in a statement Tuesday, Nov. 17. “After careful consideration, I am now requesting that federal authorities cease any additional settlements of refugees from Syria in Maryland until the U.S. government can provide appropriate assurances that refugees from Syria pose no threat to public safety.”
Hogan and almost two dozen other Republican governors have made the same request.
In contrast, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake released a statement Nov. 17 on her Facebook page she would welcome Syrian refugees into the city.
“Welcoming immigrants and New Americans is a critical part of my strategy to grow Baltimore,” she said. “I hope that refugees from Syria will look to our city as a potential place to call home.”
Hours before the student protest in College Park, members in the House of Representatives passed legislation called the “American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act,” which would essentially not allow refugees from Syria or Iraq to settle in the U.S.
One way a refugee would be allowed into the country is for officials with the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI and the director of national intelligence to certify “to Congress that he or she is not such a threat” to America.
The House vote goes against President Barack Obama’s plan to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees by next year.
“The refugees that have captivated so much attention in the wake of (the Nov. 13) attack are fleeing precisely the type of senseless slaughter that occurred in Paris,” Deputy National Security Advisor Amy Pope said in a blog Nov. 17. “To slam the door in their faces – to decide not to help when we know that we can help – would be a betrayal of our values. It would be un-American.”
According to the U.S. Department of State, 35 Syrian refugees have settled in Maryland this year. Fifteen refugees arrived in Virginia and none in the District. State Department records also show 1,925 refugees have sought asylum in the U.S. this year while Syria remains entrenched in a civil war.
“Right now you have (Rep.) Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) bragging about how (Republicans) clinched the vote to stem the flood of Syrian refugees. When you think of flood, you would think there are hundreds of thousands,” University of Maryland professor Zein El-Anine said to the crowd at College Park. “We have our own governor going with the manifesto. In the coming days, we need to thank those mayors and others who are supporting the refugees. We have to put on notice those political opportunists that seek to take away basic human rights.”
Gerald Stansbury, Maryland’s NAACP state conference president, released a statement Friday, Nov. 20 for Hogan to simply help those less fortunate.
“We have seen this before in all too many cases, from the Haitians who were forced to leave their homes after the 2010 earthquake,” he said. “The NAACP Maryland State Conference of Branches strongly urges Governor Hogan to rethink his position and to welcome the Syrian refugees and let them know that they have reached a safe harbor. We must ban together to demonstrate compassion and common sense and not succumb to the politics of fear.”