Updated Wednesday, Nov. 18 11:05 a.m.
NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) – The attacks in Paris have Tri-State Area politicians sounding off about what to do about Syrian refugees headed for the United States.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie sent a letter to President Barack Obama saying his state will not accept any refugees from Syria after the attacks, saying in part: “Neither you nor any federal official can guarantee that Syrian refugees will not be part of any terroristic activity. As such, opening our door to them irresponsibly exposes our fellow Americans to unacceptable peril.”
“I urge you to halt your plans to accept more Syrian refugees in the United States,” Christie wrote. “I have no doubt that ISIS will try to exploit American humanitarianism to expose Americans to similar deadly risk.”
Christie called on the Obama administration to instead support refugee programs in countries nearer to the region.
“I cannot allow New Jersey to participate in any program that will result in Syrian refugees – any one of whom could be connected to terrorism – being placed in our state,” Christie wrote.
On Monday, in response to a question by conservative political commentator Hugh Hewitt, Christie said he would not even admit orphans from the war that are under age five.
Hewitt then asked, “What if they were orphans under the age of 5?”
“You know, Hugh, we can come up with 18 different scenarios. The fact is that we need appropriate vetting, and I don’t think orphans under 5 should be admitted into the United States at this point. You know, they have no family here. How are we going to care for these folks?” Christie said. “The fact is, you can come up with a number of different scenarios, Hugh, but in the end, I don’t trust this administration to effectively vet the people that they’re asking us to take in. We need to put the safety and security of the American people first.”
ACLU-NJ Executive Director Udi Ofer sounded off on Christie’s comment in the following statement:
“As New Jerseyans, we’re deeply disappointed that Governor Christie would turn his back on refugees who are trying to escape exactly what he fears: terrorism. This kind of fear-mongering blames refugees for the very terror they are fleeing, and it erodes our civil rights and civil liberties. Resettlement of refugees is a matter handled by the U.S. State Department, not individual governors. States don’t have veto power in this area, and it would violate the Constitution for a governor to bar an entire group of refugees based on nationality.
New Jersey in particular has been a haven for those who need refuge the most, and Christie’s sentiments go against American principles and the principles of the people of our state. We stand in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty, a gift from France commemorating our revolutionary devotion to freedom and a symbol of welcome to immigrants the world over. Christie’s blanket refusal to consider accepting even a small part of the largest flow of humanity since the Second World War speaks to an indiscriminate distrust of people who seek better lives on our shores.”
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio also blasted Christie’s remark.
“Because Chris Christie is an elected official, his comment is an embarrassment to this country,” de Blasio said. “If he were in any other profession, it would be dismissed out of hand for the callous, heartless and prejudiced statement that it is.”
De Blasio urged a starkly different approach.
“We should not close our borders to any group of people fleeing the atrocities and horrors of terrorism. To do so is to hand terrorists a victory over our democracy, strengthened over the years by Americans who died or risked their lives for it,” de Blasio said. “We are a strong country. We can protect our country with the appropriate and intensive screening and accept refugees seeking our protection at the same time. New York City is a proud immigrant city, and we will not turn our back on that history or the people being persecuted and fleeing war.”
Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy said his state intends to welcome some Syrian refugees, once federal screening measures are detailed, WCBS 880’s Fran Schneidau reported. Malloy said his office is awaiting guidance from the appropriate federal agencies on the process, which normally takes more than a year.
“There’s no 100,000 people on our borders waiting to cross in,” Malloy said. “This is a very steady and safe practice and we should recognize it as such.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo says rejecting Syrian refugees would be akin to letting terrorists win by “conceding defeat of the American dream.”
“What are you going to have your militia fight the federal government at the borders of your state?” Cuomo said to reporters, including WCBS 880’s Alex Silverman. “It’s a pure political statement.
He added that the minute someone suggests closing the gates or building a wall, “then I say take down the Statue of Liberty because you’ve gone to a different place.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan on Tuesday called for a pause and said the House will vote on the issue this week.
“Our nation has always been welcoming but we cannot let terrorists take advantage,” Ryan, R-Wis., said Tuesday. “Better to be safe than sorry. Take a pause in this particular aspect of the refugee program.”
Emerging from a closed-door meeting on Tuesday, Republicans said the chairmen of national security-focused committees were working on legislation dealing with Syrian refugees that the House could vote on as early as Thursday.
The rush to stop the influx of Syrian refugees escaping Mideast violence troubled several Democrats, including Rep. Luis Gutierrez, who likened the reaction to the U.S. government turning away Jews fleeing Nazi Germany and placing Japanese in internment camps during World War II.
“Let us as legislators rise above petty politics, rise above sectarian fears — the underlying layer of xenophobia,” Gutierrez said on the House floor. “Let us maintain America’s commitment as a beacon of hope.”
A number of GOP presidential candidates and Senate Republicans issued similar calls to delay or stop accepting Syrian refugees, pointing to indications that one of the perpetrators in Friday’s attacks might have entered France with a Syrian passport.
Legislation could allow Republicans to block President Barack Obama’s goal of bringing 10,000 more Syrian refugees to the U.S. during the current budget year.
“Filling your country up with people who have a completely different belief system — and expecting they won’t rise up against their benefactor is foolish,” Rep. Steve King of Iowa, a leading immigration hardliner, said in an interview. He said that no refugees should be permitted into the U.S. from Syria “unless they be Christian refugees that are facing genocide,” and said that the spending bill should contain language specifying as much.
Such comments drew criticism from refugee advocates and from some Democrats, even as most agreed on the need to redouble security and vetting efforts. “Are we to abandon allies and partners awash with refugees and refuse to do our part?” asked Rep. Adam Schiff of California, top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.
The U.S. has admitted fewer than 2,200 Syrian refugees since Oct. 1, 2011 and the process for entering this country as a refugee is lengthy. Obama administration officials insist the vetting is good and that there is no need to back down from the goal of admitting 10,000 more refugees this year.
The administration announced that goal earlier this fall after a photograph of a little Syrian boy washed up on a beach sparked calls for compassion, including from some congressional Republicans.
Now the brutal Paris attacks have caused a backlash and some of those same lawmakers are calling for the U.S. to close its borders to refugees.
Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, GOP candidate for president, was one of those who supported accepting more Syrian refugees. On Monday he called for a “timeout” in such admissions.
But, not every Republican agreed with keeping out refugees. “We have a process in place, a pretty thorough vetting process,” said Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. “We’ll want to make sure that’s thorough enough but I would want to do that before calling for a stop.”
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