RI senator defends comments on refugees after controversy

Morgan: 'It is extremely clear ISIS wants to infiltrate through the refugee population'

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – State Sen. Elaine Morgan, who has found herself at the center of a national controversy over comments she made about the Syrian refugee crisis, broke her silence Friday in a lengthy statement.

In a letter addressed to her constituents in District 34, the Hopkinton Republication began by saying: “Thank you all for your continued support. It is reassuring. I will continue working hard to keep RI safe.” She added later: “I have had overwhelming support from my constituents, both Democrat/Independent and Republican.”

Morgan made headlines coast to coast Wednesday after WPRI.com reported she sent an email criticizing “the Muslim religion and philosophy” as violent and suggesting any Syrian refugees brought to Rhode Island should be placed in a “refugee camp.” She later said she had intended to write “fanatical Muslim religion and philosophy” but sent the email before editing it because she was unfamiliar with her new smartphone’s voice-transcription software.

On Friday, Morgan said she wanted to issue some “clarifications.” She argued that her initial comments were “taken out of context” since she was replying to an email from a Rhode Island constituent who “was extremely concerned and expressing his opinion to all Rhode Island senators on a potential Syrian refugee influx.”

“My response was directed to FANATICAL/EXTREMISTS Muslim groups,” Morgan wrote.

Morgan also clarified that she supports creating a federal immigration center to detain Syrian refugees “temporarily until fully vetted/investigated.” She added: “Not a refugee camp.”

More broadly, Morgan argued Gov. Gina Raimondo – who continues to support resettling Syrian refugees in Rhode Island if the federal government seeks to do so – is ignoring the potential security risks of such a move. “It is extremely clear ISIS wants to infiltrate through the refugee population,” she said.

Morgan reiterated her sympathy for the plight of the Syrians, as well.

“My heart goes out to these victims of a war-torn country,” she wrote. “The majority coming here however are young able-bodied men. They are NOT women and orphans as our administration wants us to believe.”

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the agency handling the Syrian crisis, has published figures showing that three-quarters of the 4.3 million registered Syrian refugees are women and children. A senior Obama administration official said this week that slightly more than half of Syrian refugees brought to the U.S. so far are male, but “only 2% are single males of combat age.”

Morgan represents a swing district that tossed out an incumbent senator in each of the last two election cycles. Catherine Cool Rumsey, the Democratic incumbent whom Morgan defeated in 2014, told the RI Future blog on Thursday that she will seek a rematch against Morgan next year.

Here is Morgan’s full statement:

To My Constituents in District 34 and the State of Rhode Island,

Thank you for all of your continued support. It is reassuring. I will continue working hard to keep RI safe. There are some clarifications that I would like to make on recent reporting.

The first point I need to stress is that my statement was taken out of context. I was responding to an email from a Rhode Island constituent. He was extremely concerned and expressing his opinion to all Rhode Island senators on a potential Syrian refugee influx. My response was directed to FANATICAL/EXTREMISTS Muslim groups.

The second thing I would like to clarify relates to detaining Syrian refugees temporarily until fully vetted/investigated. The reference was to create a Federal immigration Center. Not a refugee camp.

General John Allen, the president’s top envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL(ISIS), FBI Director James Comey Jr. and John Kirby, spokesman for the State Department have confirmed we DO NOT have a reliable vetting process. An example of this is the Boston marathon bombers were vetted under the current deficient system. We do not have the resources to thoroughly identify them. This creates too big of a risk.

My utmost and main concern is the safety of the American people. The vast majority of Americans have common sense and the good judgment to know we cannot adequately certify these Syrian refugees. My heart goes out to these victims of a war-torn country. The majority coming here however are young able-bodied men. They are NOT women and orphans as our administration wants us to believe.

It is extremely clear ISIS wants to infiltrate through the refugee population. We clearly need to put a pause on bringing refugees into our country until we have a solid plan with a beginning and an end. We call on the president to slow down and really assess this situation.

Again, my main and utmost concern here is for the safety of American citizens and the state of Rhode Island. As an elected official in the state of Rhode Island, I took an oath to serve and protect our country and constitution. My moral obligation and duty is to protect my community and represent my constituency. I have had overwhelming support from my constituents, both Democrat/Independent and Republican. This should not be a partisan issue. This is an issue of safety. We can’t turn our front yards into front lines. All it takes is one lone wolf to bring vast devastation to a community and country as we saw in Paris on Friday evening. Turkey announced that it had arrested eight men suspected of being ISIS terrorists, attempting to infiltrate Germany. The government of Honduras says five Syrians have been detained for trying to travel from Costa Rica to the U.S. with stolen passports. One of the terrorists in the Paris attack was a terrorist posing and vetted as a Syrian refugee. They are trying to come here to wreak terror and devastation.

An example of this is today’s (11/20) attack at Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako. Gunmen went on a shooting rampage at the luxury hotel in Mali’s capital, shooting anyone who could not recite verses of the Koran.

The most recent polls show 2 to 1 that American people oppose bringing in Syrian refugees altogether. We need to take care of our homeless. We have veterans living on the streets who we cannot support or take care of. Our country is trillions of dollars in debt. How can we afford this? We cannot. We need to take care of our own homeless and hungry.

Governor Gina Raimondo refuses to acknowledge what now over 30 Governors in our country are seeing that this is a matter of keeping the constituents you serve and the United States safe and secure!

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He hosts Executive Suite and writes The Saturday Morning Post. Follow him on Twitter: @tednesi

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