Debate continues to rage over Syrian refugees


JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – As an increasing number of state governors call to halt the influx of Syrian refugees into the United States, the issue has become more politicized in both Missouri and across the nation.

The terrorist attacks in France committed by Muslim extremists have driven many Missouri Republicans to call for a moratorium on refugees from entering the U.S. for fears of the potential threat to public safety, while many Democrats have argued that turning refugees away will only send them back to a dangerous place.

St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, who has vocally supported bringing more refugees to the city, tweeted his continued support for Syrian refugees.

A group of 19 Republican state senators also weighed in last night, with President Pro Tem Ron Richard, R-Joplin and Sen. Mike Parson, R-Bolivar, calling the decision to continue accepting refuges a “mishandling of America’s foreign policy.”

“We will not idly stand by while our citizens are put in harm’s way,” Richard said. “We call upon our governor to do his duty and protect the safety and well-being of the citizens of the Show-Me State by opposing this misguided plan.”

“We will always remember we are a nation of immigrants, and we are willing to welcome those who come to seek better lives for themselves and their families through legal channels,” Richard continued “But, we cannot allow poorly vetted individuals to come to our state without an in-depth screening process. I urge the governor to suspend the acceptance of Syrian refugees until the Department of Homeland Security can assure us the procedures are safe and a full review of security threats has been completed.”

Sen. Bob Onder, R-St. Charles, said in an interview with KMOV said taking in more refugees in the wake of the attacks in Paris is “the height of insanity.”

Republican gubernatorial candidates John Brunner, Catherine Hanaway, Eric Greitens and Lt. Governor Peter Kinder also weighed in. Each are in favor of preventing refugees from entering the state.

“America has always been a land of liberty for those who flee from tyranny, but that has only been possible because of American strength abroad and competence at home,” Greitens said in a release. “Unfortunately, this administration has exhibited neither. I’ve worked with refugees in Bosnia, in Rwanda, and around the world who see America as a beacon of freedom. No doubt many of those who are fleeing from Islamic terrorism see us the same way. If we really want to help them, then launch a campaign to defeat ISIS, and put in place a plan to properly screen refugees for ties to radical Islamic terrorist organizations.”

The gubernatorial candidate on the other side of the aisle, Attorney General Chris Koster, perhaps the most prominent Democrat in the state aside from Nixon, also called for a suspension of refugee admittance in a statement released late Monday for federal agencies to double-check their admitting procedures. However, he focused on a more federal level, not specifically asking anything of Nixon.

“It is prudent to pause the admittance of refugees from Syria to allow the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, and our other national security agencies to re-evaluate the screening processes to ensure we are preventing terrorists from entering our country.”

That appeal to the federal government may have more actual impact, specifically because the Refugee Act of 1980 gives immense powers to the feds in regards to the resettlement and relocation of refugees. However, certain state departments, such as Missouri’s Refugee Resettlement program under the Department of Social Services, can be affected to make resettlement into those states more difficult.

The pathway for refugees to enter the United States is a process which takes up to 18-24 months and involves screening by the Department of Homeland Security, the State Department, a check for any infectious diseases and a cultural orientation course, a process usually described as much stricter than the European process.

However, FBI Director James Comey said in October that vetting Syrian refugees was increasingly difficult because of the lack of U.S. diplomatic presence in the nation.

“If someone has never made a ripple in the pond in Syria in a way that would get their identity or their interest reflected in our database, we can query our database until the cows come home, but there will be nothing show up because we have no record of them,” he said at a Congressional meeting.

The United States took in 226,000 refugees from around the world, including over 43,000 from the Middle East (the vast majority of them Iraqis), from FY2011 to FY2013, the most recent years data was made available by the State Dept.

Pres. Barack Obama announced in September that he would instruct his administration to take in 10,000 Syrian refugees in each of the next two fiscal years, many of them women, children, torture survivors and those with special needs. It took in just over 1,200 refugees from the war-torn Middle Eastern country in 2015.