Protesters gather in Dover to spotlight refugee issue

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912 Delaware Patriots executive director Karen Gritton of Lincoln holds a press briefing at Legislative Hall Thursday voicing the Concerned Coalition Alliance of Delaware’s opposition to Gov. Jack Markell’s stated plans to resettle some undetermined number of Syrian refugees in Delaware. (Delaware State News/Dave Chambers)

DOVER — A small group gathered outside the state capitol Thursday to protest Gov. Jack Markell’s decision to accept Syrian refugees.

About a dozen individuals, as well as nearly as many media members, stood in front of Legislative Hall in the rain for a brief news conference. Organized by several local organizations, the gathering was intended to publicize an open letter written to Gov. Markell regarding the refugee issue.

Much as President Barack Obama has drawn criticism nationally, Gov. Markell, a Democrat, has taken heat from many Delawareans for his stance on refugees. In the wake of the recent terror attacks in Paris and California, citizens have called for halting immigration from Syria, and Congress has taken steps to place a moratorium on the process.

“As governor, your heaviest burden and first concern must be for the safety and common well-being of the people in Delaware,” said 912 Delaware Patriots Executive Director Karen Gritton, reading from a letter written to the governor. “We ask that you recognize the proven risk associated with similar relocation programs. We further request that you use your authority, in the best interest and public safety of Delaware families and communities, to obstruct President Obama’s ill-considered relocation plan.”

The letter was composed by the 912 Delaware Patriots, the Faith and Freedom Coalition Delaware, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s Central Delaware branch, the Frederick Douglass Foundation of Delaware and the Institute on the Constitution’s Delaware chapter. The groups claim to represent thousands of Delawareans.

Gov. Markell has argued the nation has a humanitarian duty to aid the many thousands of people fleeing the violence in Syria as a result of a civil war.

“The United States has always been a welcoming nation. We have always been compassionate and kind to those facing danger and injustice, and in our diversity we have found great strength,” he wrote in a November Facebook post that drew 2,500 comments in the first 14 hours.

“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. These officials are trained to ensure the applicant is indeed a refugee and not a security risk. Collaboration and resources of multiple agencies, including the National Counterterrorism Center, the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense are involved in this screening process.

“If the federal government decides to place some of those refugees in Delaware, we will work with our federal partners, while expecting them to recognize that the federal government must provide or pay for any services these individuals may need.”

While the federal government, not the states, controls refugee resettlement, Ms. Gritton argued Gov. Markell can prevent money from going to refugees.

“Without funding, without EBT cards, welfare, housing, without all of those things that our taxpayer dollars pay for, we believe that this will not be a viable location for them to settle,” she said.

The refugee program is federally funded, and the governor has said he does not intend to use state funds. He has also noted the states cannot legally refuse refugees the federal government seeks to place.

In the letter, opponents of immigration argue the existing security measures are not sufficient to prevent a terrorist from entering the country with refugees, a claim disputed by supporters of President Obama’s plan.

“We are equally concerned that your support for President Obama’s planned action reflects a disconnect from those you serve in Delaware,” the letter reads. “Delaware families are being profoundly impacted by limited resources, including a lack of care for our veterans, also a concern of yours. Heroin use is at an epidemic level in our state and destroying families and communities daily.

“Wilmington continues to suffer from uncontrolled crime and there is a growing racial discontent. We still face inequalities and deficiencies in our state’s education system that may likely place added burdens on the state’s budget. The people of Delaware just cannot afford the cost, financial and otherwise, of your plan to add to those needing assistance in our state.”

Staff writer Matt Bittle can be reached at 741-8250 or mbittle@newszap.com. Follow @MatthewCBittle on Twitter.

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