Delaware officials at odds over Syrian refugees

 

DOVER — The debate over whether to welcome or turn away Syrian refugees has mostly fallen along partisan lines across the country. Delaware is no different.

The issue, which has lurked in the background for years, exploded over the weekend after the revelation that at least one suspect in the Paris terrorist attacks is believed to be a Syrian refugee who entered Greece last month under a fake name, according to CNN.

President Obama is calling for states to welcome people seeking asylum from the violence in the Middle East.

“We also have to remember that many of these refugees are the victims of terrorism themselves — that’s what they’re fleeing,” the president said in a Monday news conference in Turkey.

“Slamming the door in their faces would be a betrayal of our values. Our nations can welcome refugees who are desperately seeking safety and ensure our own security. We can and must do both.”

But as Delaware Democrats support President Obama’s call to allow refugees into the country, Republicans push back.

Delaware GOP Chairman Charlie Copeland sent a letter Monday to Gov. Jack Markell, a Democrat, requesting he reject any calls from the White House to host refugees.

“On Sept. 15, 2015, your administration told members of the news media, ‘If the federal government decides to place some of those (Syrian) refugees in Delaware, the governor would work with our federal government to help ensure they have the support and services they would need.’ I’m writing today to ask that you reverse your position on accepting Syrian refugees in Delaware,” he wrote. “Further, I ask that you demand that the Obama administration halt all efforts (to) allow these individuals to cross American borders.”

Sen. Colin Bonini (R-Dover) agreed.

“We should absolutely not be allowing them in at this point,” said Sen. Bonini, who wrote his own letter to Gov. Markell on Monday.

In the letter, he requested the governor “immediately suspend all Syrian refugee relocation into the state of Delaware until the U.S. Department of Homeland Security can do a full review of the security procedures and clearances of refugees.”

He thinks security measures are insufficient and says unless the background checks being conducted by the federal government are strengthened, Delawareans are at risk.

He urged residents to donate to relief efforts and said his “heart aches” but he does not believe immigration, in this case, is safe for Americans.

The United States has admitted about 1,500 refugees this year. President Obama stated in September he supported allowing in 10,000 more.

Nationwide, about two dozen governors, nearly all of them Republicans, have called for freezing immigration from Syria. However, the impact of their proclamations remains to be seen — the federal government, not the states, controls immigration and resettlement.

Delaware’s U.S. senators, both Democrats, are backing the president.

Saying his first concern is the safety of the American people, Sen. Chris Coons said he supports opening the borders to refugees who have been appropriately vetted.

“We are a tolerant nation, and we must not turn against our values by slamming the door in the faces of refugees who have nowhere else to turn,” he said in a statement. “We can accept refugees while keeping our country safe.”

U.S. Sen. Tom Carper had similar thoughts.

“Our country has a long history of granting refuge to victims of persecution and brutality. We have a moral obligation to the ‘least of these’ to continue this tradition by taking in our share of Syrian refugees, whether in Delaware or another part of the country,” he said in a statement. “With that said, we also have an obligation to ensure those people coming from Syria are thoroughly vetted in order to confirm that these people are who they say they are. It is our job to redouble our efforts in the wake of the Paris attacks to make sure we screen all refugees we accept extensively.”

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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