PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Rhode Island will welcome Syrian refugees if the federal government asks the state to act as host, Gov. Gina Raimondo said definitively Thursday amid a rising chorus of questions in the wake of the Paris attacks.
“Of course we will,” she said in an interview.
While the governor previously said the state would be willing to help, religious leaders and the ACLU called on Raimondo to denounce xenophobia and welcome refugees.
They expressed concerns over the increasing rhetoric and vitriol surrounding the issue and a WPRO-AM report that Raimondo said “right now there’s much to-do about nothing.”
State Sen. Elaine Morgan said in an email that Syrian refugees should be segregated in a camp if the state accepts them, WPRI-TV reported Wednesday. Local Republicans say it’s not safe for the state to host Syrian refugees after the Paris attacks, which killed 129 people. Officials have said the mastermind of last week’s attacks bragged in Islamic State propaganda of his ability to move back and forth between Europe and Syria undetected.
Lawmakers held dueling rallies Thursday at the statehouse, with one group supporting welcoming Syrian refugees following the Paris attacks and the other opposing it.
“People are acting as if there’s a bunch of Syrian refugees looking to come to Rhode Island tomorrow,” Raimondo said Thursday. “My point was, right now people are acting with some hysteria and fear, and I appreciate the fear, and my primary job is to keep the people of Rhode Island safe, but my thing is, let’s just calm down. This is a federal issue.”
The Refugee Act of 1980 dictates that refugee resettlement within the United States is managed by the federal government. State refugee coordinators are consulted, but that’s largely to ensure that refugees are settled in cities with adequate jobs, housing and social services.
Individual states do not have the legal authority to block refugee placement.
The Diocese of Providence said it was asked if it could help resettle 75 refugees next year, including Syrian refugees, instead of 40, and local officials said yes. Raimondo said she wasn’t aware of that, but called it “great.”
“I think people will open their hearts and their homes to families, children, fleeing oppression and that’s what we should do,” she said. “I’d like to see this entire debate seasoned with more compassion and tolerance. I’d like people to calm down and focus on the reality.”
Morgan said she mistakenly sent her email before editing it. In it, she wrote that “the Muslim religion and philosophy is to murder, rape and decapitate” non-Muslims, but said after that she meant to limit her characterization to “the fanatical Muslim religion and philosophy,” the station reported.
Morgan didn’t attend the rally opposed to hosting refugees. Other lawmakers there distanced themselves. Roughly 50 people attended.
“I don’t agree with what she said at all. She insulted a whole culture, a whole religious culture,” said Republican Rep. Robert Nardolillo, the organizer.
Democratic state Sen. Gayle Goldin, who helped organize the rally in support of refugees, said she was shocked by Morgan’s comments. More than 100 people attended that rally.
“We wanted to make it clear to the public that there are many in this building who believe in creating an inclusive and welcoming state, and don’t think that fear and ignorance should rule our public policymaking,” she said.
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