Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett and all nine County Council members Tuesday told the federal government they will welcome Syrian refugees into the county and that they were “disheartened that many governors have expressed opposition to having Syrian refugees make new homes in their states.”
Gov. Larry Hogan was one of the governors to express such opposition, announcing last week that, in response to the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris, he asked the federal government to cease allowing Syrian refugees to resettle in Maryland until “appropriate assurances” were made that those refugees aren’t safety threats.
In a letter sent Tuesday to Robert Carey, director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Leggett and all nine council members portrayed the existing vetting process for refugees seeking to enter the U.S. as rigorous enough.
They also pointed to three Silver Spring-based nonprofits that partner with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to provide assistance to refugees resettling in the area, including the International Rescue Committee.
“We are writing to voice our welcome and support for those who are felling the violence, cannot safely return home, and seek nothing but safety and freedom in America,” wrote Leggett and the council members. “We are confident that refugees will continue to be appropriately screened and, if they choose to make their new home in Montgomery County, will be valued members of our community.”
The letter from county officials came on the same day that 38 advocacy groups sent a letter to Hogan calling on him to trust the federal vetting process. Advocates held demonstrations Friday and Monday at the State House in Annapolis opposing Hogan’s position and two recently settled Syrian refugees living in Baltimore asked Hogan to come meet with their families.
On Friday, Secretary of State John Kerry and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson wrote Hogan a letter assuring him that the existing refugee vetting process is comprehensive. Hogan, one of about 30 mostly Republican governors to oppose Syrian refugees from coming to their states, said Monday he would not change his mind, citing “an overwhelming majority” of Marylanders who support his position.
Local Democrats reacted quickly last week to Hogan’s original announcement, which came Nov. 17 via a Facebook post.
District 39 Del. Kirill Reznik, who came to the U.S. in the 1970s as a child with refugee status from the Soviet Union, said the decision goes directly against Hogan’s “campaign promise of bipartisanship, moderation and good governance.”
Rep. Chris Van Hollen called Hogan’s announcement “shameful.” A few days later, the House of Representatives passed a bill adding another layer of review of refugees fleeing Syria’s civil war amid concerns that terrorists could pose as refugees.
Van Hollen voted against it. Democratic colleague John Delaney, who also represents part of Montgomery County in Congress, voted for it.
While the federal government funds refugee assistance programs, the programs are administered through state government organizations. In Maryland, the Maryland Office for Refugees and Asylees (MORA) provides refugees with cash, medical assistance and help finding employment and housing.
Leggett and the nine council members also signed on to the “Declaration from Metropolitan Regions on Syrian Refugees,” a document started by the county executive in King County, Washington that cites allowing refugees from war-torn countries as a fundamental American principle.