Carney’s break with top Democrats on refugee issue draws fire

DOVER — Rep. John Carney, D-Del., has broken from other top Democrats in calling for the country to cease accepting “military-aged,” single Syrian men while security procedures are being reviewed.

Rep. Carney, who is running for governor in 2016, has taken a somewhat different stance than the White House and many of his fellow Democrats, including top officials in Delaware.

“My view is we ought to have some special review of these processes for these military aged men, the higher-risk population, if you will,” he said Wednesday.

Breaking rank with his fellow Democrats, Rep. John Carney said Wednesday he supported a moratorium on young, single Syrian men immigrating to the United States. (Delaware State News file)

Breaking rank with his fellow Democrats, Rep. John Carney said Wednesday he supported a moratorium on young, single Syrian men immigrating to the United States. (Delaware State News file)

He was one of 47 House Democrats to vote with Republican lawmakers Thursday on legislation imposing additional security measures on Syrian refugees. The White House has said President Barack Obama would veto the bill.

Rep. Carney’s comments and vote are in contrast to statements made by Gov. Jack Markell, a Democrat.

“The United States has always been a welcoming nation,” he said in a Monday Facebook post. “We have always been compassionate and kind to those facing danger and injustice, and in our diversity we have found great strength.

“The safety and security of Delaware and its citizens are our top priority, but we also must understand we are talking about people fleeing perpetrators of terror. And while any security system can be improved, the federal refugee review system has the highest level of security checks of any traveler to American shores, including biometric and biographic checks as well as in-person overseas interviews by federal officials.”

The current screening process can take up to two years for potential Syrian refugees.

Asked Thursday how the governor feels about restricting only military-aged men, a spokeswoman stood by previous remarks made by Gov. Markell.

“The refugee system has the highest level of security checks of any traveler to American shores, and federal officials have explained that there already is, quite sensibly, a higher bar for single, military-aged men to enter this country as refugees,” Kelly Bachman said.

According to the U.S. State Department, 2 percent of Syrian refugees are “single males of combat age,” a fact noted by Rep. Carney, who spoke of balancing the country’s “humanitarian response” with the duty of keeping citizens secure.

“Particularly in the case of Syria, I’m concerned we may not have information on these individuals,” he said. “It’s one of those things I want to be sure that those military-aged men, if you will, for whom there’s just not that kind of information, that we don’t let them in.”

He cited worries heard from Delawareans, many of whom have spoken out against Gov. Markell’s decision to welcome refugees.

In a Friday statement, he further detailed his vote.

“I wanted to understand the administration’s view, and I was prepared to vote against the bill if it would halt our refugee program, rather than improve it,” he said. “But the administration couldn’t provide compelling arguments, evidence or facts that the bill would halt the program, despite it being characterized that way.

“I have read the bill. What it does is pretty straightforward — it provides an extra level of assurance that refugees accepted into our country do not pose a threat to national security. It does this by requiring a background check of any Syrian or Iraqi refugee seeking to enter the U.S.”

While he is opposed to, for the time being, allowing single men to enter the country, Rep. Carney said he supports letting in families, women, children and the elderly, a stance he feels constituents would back.

He also expressed fears that closing the borders would play into the Islamic State’s hands.

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Sen. Colin Bonini

“If we create this perception that all Muslims are bad and we’re not going to let them into the country when they’re fleeing this terrorism and violence, we might end up making the situation worse,” he said.

The other gubernatorial candidates for 2016, both Republicans, have urged the government to bar access to all refugees.

Sen. Colin Bonini, of Dover, called Rep. Carney’s plan a “half-measure.”

While he has considered dropping out of the race due to his underdog status, Sen. Bonini could use the seeming difference of opinion between Democrats and Republicans to curry favor with voters.

“Delaware’s families deserve better,” Sen. Bonini said in a statement. “People are concerned about the safety of their families, and strong leadership is needed from our representatives in Washington and Dover.”

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Lacey Lafferty

Lacey Lafferty, an outsider campaigning for governor, said the federal government should provide assistance in the Middle East rather than creating a potential security risk and “more government entitlement” by bringing refugees to United States.

Although Rep. Carney’s stance is more cautioned than ones taken by many other officials, he has still been slammed by the Republican Party.

“The question is, as a Democratic candidate for governor, what is he actually doing to ensure that Governor Jack Markell changes his position on opening his arms, and Delaware taxpayer funds, to the ‘needles in the haystack’ who want nothing more than to bring harm to Delaware residents?” state GOP Chairman Charlie Copeland said in a statement.

Noting he did not want to speak for his colleagues from Delaware in the Senate, Rep. Carney did say he felt they supported his views. However, their statements do clash with his.

How voters feel about the refugee situation — and whether they remember it come fall of 2016 — remains to be seen.

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