Governors muddle state messages on Syrian refugees – USA TODAY
During the last three years, Texas took in more refugees than any state â so when Gov. Greg Abbott wrote President Obama on Monday with a message it was closing the door to Syrian refugees, the waters became muddied.
Most of those 20,600Â refugeesÂ were Burmese or Iraqis fleeing conflict and already through a months-long vetting process. Dozens of Syrians have relocated to Dallas or Houston since the war there started displacing residents in 2011, said Donna Duvin, executive director ofÂ the International Rescue Committee office in Dallas.
âMy first sense is that the governorâs response was misguided,â Duvin said. âThese people are here and you canât tell the difference between a refugee family and another neighbor, theyâre employed, they work hard, they go to our schools.â
Texas joined 26 other mostly Republican-led states this week inÂ signaling they would make efforts to block further resettlement of new Syrian refugees. The governors want further assurances of the federal vetting process for refugees, to prevent someone from seeking asylum who could be dangerous.
However, aÂ USA TODAY analysis shows that 22 of 27Â states opposed to new Syrian refugees have accepted hundreds since 2011.
Houston accepted more Syrian refugees than any city in the nation, 115, since 2011, according to the State Department. A tradition that should continue despite the governor, said Raequel Roberts, a spokeswoman for Interfaith Ministries in Greater Houston.Â âProperly vetted refugees should be welcomed and resettled in Texas, and throughout the nation as they have been welcomed for many generations,â Roberts said in a statement. âThey have become, or are on their way to becoming, productive citizens of this diverse and vibrant city.â
Dallas and Fort Worth are home to several established, well-off Syrian Americans ready to help new refugee arrivals, said Fahed Alhaj Mohamad, 28, a geographic information system analyst in the city who arrived in 2012 on a Fulbright Scholarship and is seeking asylum.Â Abbottâs statement “was ironic and sad,â Alhaj Mohamad said. âYouâre closing the door in front of the people who need it most.â
Florida took in nearly 10,000 refugees in the past three years â far outpacing its Southern neighbors, but Republican Gov. Rick Scott signaled heâd like the process closed to the 425 expected refugees in coming years from the current conflict.
That hit Jaber Nyrabeah, 29, as confusing given the history of welcoming Syrian American communities in cities like Orlando.Â âFor the Syrians already here it projects fear. Nobody wants to live in fear. Thatâs what ISIS and (Syrian President Bashar al) Assad wants,â said Nyrabeah, president of the cityâs Syrian American Council. âThese red state governors are scoring points with the voter base and creating fear in refugees that donât need it.â
About 7,000 people live in Florida with Syrian ancestry, according to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau estimates â still a tiny fraction of the stateâs population.
Refugee resettlement often clusters in metropolitan areas where unemployment is lowerâ resources are available for transition and existing communities exist that speak the language.Â Portions of metro Detroit have flourished into Arabic-speaking enclaves, which may have softened the rhetoric by MichiganÂ Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, who was among the first state leaders to call for his administration to pause efforts to attract Syrian refugees.Â He stopped short of saying the state would actively seek to block the process. And he was among a small minority to address recently resettled refugees.
Snyder said Monday that he was not asking that some 20 Syrian refugees who have either recently arrived in Michigan or are expected soon be stopped or vetted again.Â “That would be a decision that would be up to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security,” which has already put those refugees through a vetting process that lasted more than one year, Snyder told the Detroit Free Press after a Monday speech in East Lansing.
Messages from governors are crucial in setting the tone for refugee resettlement, said Zuhdi Jasser, a Phoenix physician and president of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy. He reacted suspiciously to Republican Gov. Doug Duceyâs halt to new Syrian refugees, which âraises many more questions than it answers.â
As a Muslim who was active politically in conservative circles since 9/11, Jasser says he understands hesitance by governors â but ending refugee acceptance goes too far. Arizona took in 168 Syrian refugees since 2011, clustering in Glendale, Phoenix and Tucson.Â âI agree this is a time to hit the pause button, but itâs not being articulated that way,â said Jasser, who has family in Damascus and Aleppo seeking to emigrate. âThat isnât the America my family came to embrace when it moved here. We have to be very careful with our messaging and condemn Islamist who identify with the Islamic State and not be anti-Islam.â