Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan is standing firm in his opposition to resettling Syrian refugees in the state, despite assurances from top U.S. officials and growing criticism from advocates who say his stance does not reflect American values.
Abo Omar, 27, and Yahya Sharaeebi, 47, Syrian refugees who live in Baltimore, joined dozens of demonstrators Monday in Annapolis to urge Hogan (R) to change his position.
Omar, who resettled just four days ago, invited the governor to meet with his family to see a “true picture of the Syrian people as peaceful.”
Hours later, Christian and Jewish faith leaders delivered a petition to the governor’s State House office calling on him to welcome refugees. They said they had gathered signatures from about 100 other faith leaders in the state.
“Our elected officials have a responsibility to protect the nation, but turning away families who risk their lives to escape the destruction of war is unnecessary and wrong,” the petition said. “America can prevent attacks without turning our backs on desperate refugees.”
Hogan is one of about 30 governors, mostly Republicans, who have asked the Obama administration not to allow Syrian refugees into their states. He announced his decision in a Facebook post last week, saying he wanted the federal government to provide “appropriate assurances that refugees from Syria pose no threat to public safety.”
Refugee resettlement groups do not need permission from states, however, in order to bring refugees in. They usually work with city and county governments and nonprofit groups to find homes, social services and job opportunities for people who have fled war, torture and other traumas and have been carefully screened by the federal government and given refugee status.
Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake (D) said Monday that she will continue to welcome refugees to the city, the Baltimore Sun reported.
On Friday, Secretary of State John F. Kerry and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson issued a joint letter to Hogan assuring him that the vetting process for Syrian refugees was “extraordinarily thorough and comprehensive.”
The letter said that authorities review the applications “more carefully than any other type of traveler to the United States.”
But Hogan said Monday that the letter did nothing to increase his confidence in the Obama administration’s screening policies.
“It’s not going to change,” he said of his position during a news conference in Baltimore. “An overwhelming majority of Marylanders support my position. Most people in the country support my position, as does a majority of Congress and the super-majority of all the states.”
A spokesman for the governor said he was referring to public polls showing opposition to refugee resettlement, tallies of which governors are opposed to refugees and a bill passed in the House last week aimed at tightening controls on refugees — but not at barring them completely. Obama has threatened to veto the bill if it passes the Senate, and Democratic lawmakers there have vowed to block it.
State Department data shows that 43 Syrian refugees have been resettled in Maryland since the start of Syria’s civil war in March 2011, with all but eight of them arriving this year.
Speaking with faith leaders Monday, Rabbi Stephen J. Weisman acknowledged that “no vetting process is perfect,” but he warned that losing the nation’s moral compass poses a greater threat.
“Challenging moments call not for retreat from our core values but indeed for rededication to those values,” Weisman said during a group prayer.
There was also a rally in Annapolis last week opposing Hogan’s position.