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Republicans and Democrats battle in hearing over Syrian refugees


JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – As the first Syrian refugees enter the United States and Missouri, one of the most controversial international issues of the year has also made its way to the Show-Me State.

The House Select Committee on the Budget and the Senate Appropriations Committee held a joint hearing on the funding and implementation of various refugee assistance programs in the state in response to the Syrian refugee crisis.

With more than four million displaced Syrians, and hundreds of thousands of those streaming into Europe, state governments and federal agencies have both called for a more extensive look at the refugees coming into the United States following the attacks carried out allegedly by the Daesh in Paris.

Multiple governors, mostly Republicans, in the last few weeks announced they would attempt to halt any Syrian refugees from entering their state, regardless of the legality of such a maneuver.

Missouri Republicans also urged Gov. Jay Nixon to do the same, but he refused. Rep. Tom Flanigan, the budget chair, said the hearing was for purely informational purposes.

“I think there’s a lot of misconceptions out there of what can be done and what ought to be done,” he said. “[It was] truly an informational hearing. I learned it’s a very complicated system and that says a lot.”

Sen. Kurt Schaefer, chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said this hearing would be done to address any concerns with these refugees entering the country.

“Missourians want to know what resources are being used to bring refugees to the state of Missouri and what threat, if any, exists,” he said. “We’ve seen negligence on the part of the federal government.”

“I’m sure there’s nobody on this committee that doesn’t have empathy for refugees from a war-torn country, but I know a number of my constituents have a problem with trusting the federal government with doing the screening process effectively… and that everything’s done correctly to keep us safe,” he later added. “No one should confuse due diligence by this committee with a lack of compassion or xenophobia. You get one wrong and you end up with citizens who get killed.”

However, Sen. Jamilah Nasheed called the hearing a “circus” that had misplaced its focus on a non-apparent terrorist threat from Syrian refugees. She instead urged the committees to investigate domestic terrorism like the shooting at a Colorado Planned Parenthood facility Friday.

“A lot of individuals here in the United States are fearful, and they probably have good reason to be after 9/11,” Nasheed said. “We had a situation Friday… there was a domestic terrorist attack here in the United States where we had three people assassinated, and we aren’t having a conversation or a meeting about how we vet domestic terrorists.

“What we’re seeing right now is individuals pandering to their base on the backs of individuals fleeing oppression.”

Anna Crosslin, the President and CEO of the International Institute, had perhaps the most extensive and knowledgeable testimony. She spoke as a 40-year veteran of the refugee resettlement process in St. Louis, helping refugees from Vietnam, Bhutan, Somali, Iraq, Syria and many others. She spoke with broad knowledge about the refugee vetting process, though Schaefer noted multiple times that she did not have specific, direct knowledge of what the vetting process entailed.

Nasheed said those authorities should have been made present for the hearing.

“If we really wanted to get to the root of it all to look at how strenuously we accept refugees, we would have the United Nations here today, we would have homeland Security here today,” she said.

Deputy directors of departments of the state government, from revenue to public safety to elementary and secondary education and others, also testified. While Democrats highlighted highlight what they saw as a rigorous federal process to accepting refugees, Republicans asked further questions on how much money is spent of refugees in social services.

Rep. Jeremy LaFaver asked one line of questioning that brought up a letter written by Rep. Mike Moon, R-Ash Grove, earlier this month that calls for refugee camps. LaFaver called them something else.

“I think it’s fair, I don’t think it’s rhetoric on our end… To me, Mike Moon seems pretty serious about wanting to build an internment camp for Muslims,” he said.