Several dozen Maryland state lawmakers, including Democratic House nominee Jamie B. Raskin, have written Gov. Larry Hogan (R), urging him to endorse the settlement of Syrian refugees in the state.
Hogan joined other governors last year in saying he would oppose the entry of refugees unless the federal government could provide specific assurances that they are properly vetted and do not pose a security threat.
State Department officials have said repeatedly that all refugees — including Syrians — undergo rigorous screening before being granted refugee status.
But Hogan spokesman Matt Clark said Wednesday that the governor’s position has not changed. “To my knowledge, the federal government has not provided any additional information on changes . . . in the process,” Clark said.
Since Oct. 1, 27 refugees from Syria have been resettled in Maryland, according to the State Department’s Refugee Processing Center. Such resettlements are generally coordinated between the State Department and nonprofit groups — state governments cannot halt the flow even if they want to. Nine Syrians were resettled in November, one in January, 10 in March and seven in April.
Opposition to the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the United States grew last year in the wake of terrorist attacks in Europe. More than 30 governors — most of them Republicans — took stances similar to Hogan’s, despite assurances from advocacy groups and the Obama administration that refugees are thoroughly screened, pose no threat and desperately need a place to go.
The legislators’ letter to Hogan said the signers were troubled that some elected officials “want us to turn our back” on “our essential values and laws.”
“Our nation and our state were founded to give people fleeing persecution a safe haven,” the letter said. “Welcoming Syrian refugees . . . speaks to our best traditions and hopes for the future.”
The letter was initiated by Raskin, a state senator from Montgomery County and the Democratic nominee to succeed outgoing U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D), and Dels. Brooke E. Lierman (D-Baltimore) and David Moon (D-Montgomery).
“Maryland itself was founded by early refugees, seeking freedom,” Lierman said. “Today, those refugees are from all over the world, including Syria, and they need our compassion.”
The letter said Hogan and his administration should not succumb to “demagoguery and paranoia” regarding Syrian refugees. It echoed statements in recent months from local government leaders in Montgomery, Prince George’s and Howard counties, Baltimore City and several towns and cities in the Washington suburbs, all of which said the state should welcome refugees.
“Maryland should not fall prey to the anti-Muslim sentiment being stoked by the likes of Donald Trump,” Moon said, referring to the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, who has said most Muslim non-citizens should be barred from entering the country. “The effort to block Syrian refugees from locating in our state is just one manifestation of this misguided bigotry, and it must be stopped.”
Ruben Chandrasekar, an official of the International Rescue Committee in Baltimore, said the agency has resettled 60 Syrian refugees in Maryland in the past two years and is prepared to place as many as 100 in the coming year.
“If President Obama follows through on his promise to bring in 10,000 Syrian refugees, we hope to have a very busy summer,” said Chandrasekar, whose organization worked closely with the advocacy groups that spearheaded the letter from lawmakers to Hogan.
“Many communities here and all over the country want to welcome and help the Syrians,” Chandrasekar said. “They are people who have fled war and terror, they have been carefully vetted, and all they want is peace and a chance to provide for their families.”
Pamela Constable contributed to this report.