As the refugee debate continues, politicians across the country have weighed in. Governors in 31 states, including Governor Charlie Baker here in Massachusetts, have expressed reservations about allowing Syrian refugees into the country. Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation to suspend President Obama’s program to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees and create a stricter screening process.
Meanwhile, more than 12 million refugees have fled Syria since the beginning of the Civil War. While at least four million people have become official refugees, millions more are looking to be resettled. Eva Millona is the Executive Director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, the state’s largest organization representing immigrants. She joined Margery Eagan and guest host Jared Bowen on Boston Public Radio to discuss the refugee crisis, and her hopes that politicians across the country will change their minds.
Margery: Governor Charlie Baker came out with a statement that caused a lot of upset in the immigrant/refugee community. He’s nuanced and changed since then, what is he saying now?
Millona: We are really thankful that the governor did not sign the letter that 27 other governors from 27 states signed to block the resettlement. There was a huge concern among the community and fear, in terms of the first statement, but the second statement really assures us that it’s a statement of caution, and the governor wants to hear more from the federal government and make sure that the security measures are in place. We’re really grateful that the statements really clarify that even the first one was a statement of caution.
Margery: People are scared, and the governors did want to have more of a vetting process. Was there anything wrong with the initial concern from governors that they needed to know more?
Millona: If the statement is such that poses concern in terms of having all that we need in processing, it’s one thing. Extreme statements by governors and anti-immigrant groups politicizing the issue and saying we need to block resettlement and we can’t admit refugees and we need to deport those who are here, those are extreme statements that really don’t represent the American values or whatever need to do to ensure our security. One thing that’s important for listeners to know is that currently, refugees are admitted to the United States only upon successful completion of a very comprehensive, multi-layered vetting process. Before they arrive in our country, they must undergo extensive background checks that include a number of in-person interviews. It’s actually a 12-step process. In-person interviews, biographic, biometric, background checks, as well as interviews with others who can vouch for who these people are… it’s a long, comprehensive process that takes between 18 and 36 months. The recent statement by governors really conflate the victims of terror with its perpetrators. Syrian refugees are running for their lives, are fleeing and are being victimized. It doesn’t reflect the compliance with U.S. law or international law, or American values for that matter.
Eva Millona is the Executive Director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, the state’s largest organization representing immigrants. To hear more from her interview, click on the audio link above.