Four years after fleeing their war-torn country, a Syrian family of three was just four days from finally finding a new home.
Then Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana (R), where the family was slated to move in on Thursday, ordered the state’s refugee agencies to stop resettlement activities after the deadly attacks in Paris.
After a hasty effort to find a new place for the married couple and their young son to go, they were welcomed by Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy (D) on Wednesday.
“It is the right thing, the humane thing to do,” Malloy told reporters. “Quite frankly, if you believe in God, it’s the morally correct thing to do.”
Since it emerged that one of the participants in Friday’s terror attack may have entered Europe with the stream of asylum seekers, more than half of the nation’s governors have announced they’d be shutting the door to Syrian refugees, citing security concerns. All but one, New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan, are Republicans. And Utah’s Republican Gov. Gary Herbert is the only GOP state executive who has not gone on record saying his jurisdiction will refuse Syrian refugees who have been admitted to the U.S.
In Indiana, where 39 Syrian refugees have been relocated since 2011, resettlement efforts were ordered to stop “pending assurances from the federal government that proper security measures have been achieved,” according to a press release from Pence’s office.
It’s doubtful that state officials have the legal authority to prevent refugee resettlement within their borders — immigration policy is a federal matter, and President Obama on Wednesday reaffirmed his decision to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees in the next year, condemning opposition to their resettlement as “offensive and contrary to American values.” But governors can block the flow of resources to programs aimed at helping refugees from the civil war-stricken country.
While politicians argued the matter, the two parents and their son — who haven’t been named — were en route to Indiana, with little hope they’d be welcomed when they arrived. On Tuesday, the Indianapolis-based organization Exodus Refugee Immigration Inc., which provides case management, housing, food, orientation programs, English classes and other services to refugees, received a letter from the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration saying that plans to house the trio and one other Syrian family should be halted.
Carleen Miller, Exodus Refugee’s executive director, said she would have wanted to challenge the demand but needed to find a home for the family first.
“I did not want this family to be put through any more scrutiny or drama,” she told the Associated Press. “Would I have wanted to have more time to push back and say that this is not constitutional, that refugees can go to any state that they want because they’re admitted to the U.S., not into a state? Yes. But this was a really urgent situation and I needed to make a decision on behalf of the families.”
So Miller spoke with Chris George, the executive director of Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services in New Haven, Conn., and asked him for help. He found a home for them among of a community of 22 Syrians who have been settled in New Haven in the past year, he told the New York Times.
Before they were exiled by violence and political strife, those Syrians were shop owners and bus drivers, George said, “tough, blue-collar, salt-of-the-earth types who are eager to work.”
The newest family in this small community comes from Homs, the target of a brutal years-long siege that obliterated an area almost as large as Manhattan. The father ran a used clothes store there, according to the New York Times. Their son was an infant when the family left. Now he is either four or five years old — reports differ.
The family had been living in Jordan for three years while awaiting approval to come to the U.S.
At a news conference Wednesday, Malloy called the family “absolutely wonderful and charming folks.”
“I told them that people in the United States are generous and good people but sometimes things happen elsewhere that cause people to forget about their generosity, forget about their native warmth and spirit,” he added.
The Connecticut Democrat, told the AP that governors like Pence are trying to make “political capital” by trying to block refugees. He and Pence are no stranger to conflict; earlier this year Malloy barred state travel to Indiana after Pence signed a “religious freedom restoration” law.
“This is the same guy who signed a homophobic bill in the spring, surrounded by homophobes,” Malloy said. “I’m not surprised by anything the governor does.”
Speaking to the AP, Pence spokesman Matt Lloyd called Malloy’s comments “sad, unfortunate and simply not true.”
Lloyd cited testimony from FBI director James Comey gave earlier this year, in which he acknowledged that “people who were of serious concern” have slipped through the government’s exhaustive screening process in the past. Though the process has improved since then, Comey said, “I can’t sit here and offer anybody an absolute assurance that there’s no risk associated with this.”
Of the roughly 2,100 Syrian refugees who have been admitted to the U.S. since 2012, most of them in the past year, just 2 percent were young men of “combat age.” A quarter were adults over 60. Half were children.