The Obama administration should accept more people fleeing war-torn Syria, Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley said Friday, adding the city is willing to be a landing spot to help resettle refugees.
Whaley and 17 other U.S. mayors sent a letter Thursday asking the president to increase the number of asylum-seekers America will take in.
She said Dayton is prepared to help the administration address the humanitarian crisis by welcoming refugees if they are placed here.
“It’s a welcoming, open community, and that’s one of our core values,” she said. “Should they be placed here, we are happy to make sure they are successful.”
However, U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, said Whaley does not have the authority to extend that invitation and warned refugees require significant resources and pose a national security risk.
“Mayor Whaley’s actions are outrageous and, for the second time, she has decided to speak on behalf of the Dayton area without authority and without considering the repercussions,” he said, referring to her willingness last year to accept unaccompanied migrant children arriving at the nation’s southern border.
The White House recently said it would accept 10,000 more Syrian refugees in the next year.
But mayors from 14 states sent a letter to President Barack Obama asking his administration to increase the number the United States will accept.
The mayors represent a diverse range of urban areas, including New York City, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Santa Fe and Patterson, N.J. The mayors are members of Cities United For Immigration Action, a group representing 100 cities and counties that are pushing for immigration reform.
The letter says these cities have taken in refugees and can make room for thousands more.
Large numbers of Syrians are fleeing war, oppression and suffering, and the 18 communities are ready to welcome these families to allow them to build new lives, the mayors said.
“We are taking a very small amount of refugees across the country, and we encourage (the president) to take more,” Whaley said.
Whaley said Dayton already is home to a diverse group of refugees who fled terrible conditions in their homelands.
She said immigrants have benefited the city, have helped stabilize neighborhoods and grown the economy.
“Studies that we’ve done have shown that immigrants in our community have helped grow jobs, grow opportunities and” have made Dayton a welcoming and inclusive place, she said.
Whaley said the United Nations, Homeland Security and the State Department decide where to resettle refugee populations.
But she said Dayton will be ready and able to accept refugees if needed.
Whaley’s comments were harshly criticized by Turner.
He said the mayor does not represent the region. He said he has seen Syrian refugee camps and he’s concerned about the resources and security threats associated with the crisis.
Homeland Security officials have raised security concerns about accepting refugees, citing the prospects of terrorists and jihadists gaining entry to the country.
“While I am sympathetic to the plight of these refugees and supportive of U.S. involvement during this difficult time, I am adamantly opposed to Mayor Whaley’s call for the placement of these refugees in Dayton,” Turner said.
Last year, Whaley and Turner traded harsh words after she announced that Dayton would be willing to shelter unaccompanied migrant children from Central America.
She said the federal government would have reimbursed those sheltering costs and it was the right thing to do.
Turner and a handful of other local leaders said the mayor did not speak for the region, which they claimed lacks the resources to support arriving migrants.
Catholic Social Services of the Miami Valley has not resettled any refugees from Syria.
But successful resettlement in Dayton would require a community-wide response, said Laura Roesch, the organization’s CEO.
Syrians are leaving behind most of their possessions and jobs, and new arrivals to Dayton would need access to housing, educational resources, jobs, health care and counseling, she said.
“If Dayton is designated to receive some of the Syrian refugees who are now seeking a new home, … it will take the support and involvement of the larger community to truly make this their home,” she said.
Dayton’s willingness to accept refugees and ease some of the strain being put on Europe is commendable and answers Pope Francis’ call for compassion to address this humanitarian emergency, said Mark Ensalaco, the director of research at the University of Dayton’s Human Rights Center.
Speaking to Congress on Thursday, the Pope Francis urged the global community to accept more refugees because this is the worst refugee crisis since the World War II.
Mark Owens, chairman of the Montgomery County Democratic Party, said Turner took two nuns to hear the Pope but apparently did not get the message.
“Today Congressman Turner has gone back to fanning the flames of fear and hatred by blatantly mischaracterizing the refugee situation,” Owens said.
Millions of Syrians have fled their homeland, with many flooding into Europe, to escape a conflict that has killed nearly a quarter million people, Ensalaco said.
“It’s become clear that everyone will have to make a commitment to take some refugees,” he said. “Europe can’t absorb them all.”
Ensalaco said some people have flawed views of refugees: many are highly skilled, entrepreneurial and could benefit the economy.
Ensalaco said he believes the threat refugees pose to national security is overblown. Mayors who signed the letter said they trust in the federal government’s screening process and background checks to protect national security.
Talking about Turner, Whaley said, “That’s what congressmen do these days, which is send out statements and very seldom take any actions to solve problems.”
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