Refugee debate takes center-stage in dueling rallies

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Two dueling rallies took center stage at the Rhode Island State House Thursday; one supporting Syrian refugees, and one expressing concerns over refugees coming to the country.

At 1:30 p.m., state Sens. Gayle Goldin and Joshua Miller hosted a rally in the State House rotunda, to “demonstrate support and compassion for refugees fleeing the crisis in Syria,” they said in a news release. The rally also collected Thanksgiving food items for refugee support programs at Dorcas International and the Catholic Diocese of Providence.

“When we talk about those seeking refuge in the United States, we must look into our hearts and see the human beings who are desperate for safety,” Goldin said.

Some people present held signs saying, “what would Roger Williams do?”

“We raise our voices against the shameful side of humanity that elevates fear of those who are different over helping the vulnerable,” added Rabbi Darah Mack.

Omar Bah, a refugee who fled Gambia and came to Rhode Island, spoke out.

“The refugee story is the story of compassion, the story of hope and the story of rejuvenation,” said Bah. “We should continue to be who we are, the leaders of the world and to give hope where it is lacking.”

At 3 p.m., state Rep. Robert Nardolillo and colleagues hosted a rally in the rotunda to “discuss the safety and security of Rhode Island residents in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Paris.”

The group was calling for increased security and a tighter vetting process for refugees seeking asylum in the U.S.

“We must do everything in our power to make sure that no terrorists come with them,” Nardolillo said of the refugees.

“I don’t think anyone in this room can blame any of those folks for wanting to get out of harm’s way. But we have a responsibility to protect Rhode Islanders and Americans over a political agenda,” added Rep. Mike Chippendale.

Safety Guide: Know the Signs of Terrorism »
Safety Guide: Know the Signs of Terrorism »

Sy Dillis, the son of Polish refugees, joined the second rally.

“The key word is American,” he said. “Are these people willing to become Americans, give up their Sharia law, give up their feelings of world domination and become Americans? If that’s the case, then welcome.”

The multifaceted attacks in Paris, killing at least 129 people in restaurants and a concert hall, set off a heated debate about refugees from Syria. Three Rhode Island state lawmakers this week urged Gov. Gina Raimondo to refuse any refugees.

Rhode Island State Police Commissioner of Public Safety Col. Steven O’Donnell said his department will play a role should refugees be brought into the state. However, before someone from Syria gets to Rhode Island, O’Donnell said he or she has to go through the U.S. State Department, which has had vetting and interviewing protocols in place for years.

In Washington, shortly before 2 p.m. Thursday, the House of Representatives approved a GOP bill raising barriers against Syrian and Iraqi refugees. The White House has threatened to veto if a companion measure gets approved by the Senate.

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