Four speakers at the Dayton City Commission meeting this week talked about the hot-button issue of Syrian refugee resettlement and praised city leaders for pledging to help refugees if called upon.
Mayor Nan Whaley and other commission members have said Dayton is a welcoming community that will accept Syrian refugees, if the federal government decides to place them in the area.
The stance drew harsh criticism from U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, who says Syrian refugees pose a security risk and demanded Whaley retract her comments declaring Dayton’s support of resettlement efforts.
During the public input portion of Wednesday’s commission meeting, speakers condemned federal and state elected officials who want to refuse asylum-seekers who are fleeing a bloody war.
“We cannot give in to terrorism by allowing the tragic situation in Paris to stifle humanitarian efforts,” said Pam Long, regional director of Catholic Social Action office in Dayton.
Governors across the nation — mostly Republican — have expressed objections to the nation accepting Syrian asylum- seekers.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich has said in light of the terrorist attacks in Paris, the United States should not accept any more Syrian refugees because of national security concerns.
A Syrian passport was found by the body of one of the deceased militants in Paris, possibly indicating he entered Europe while posing as a refugee.
Kasich, Turner and others said the screening process for refugees is inadequate and background checks are unreliable. They said the process lacks safeguards to guarantee that dangerous extremists will be discovered and prevented from entering the United States.
U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, has called on the Obama administration to immediately halt Syrian resettlement to allow for a thorough review of vetting procedures.
But Long said the vetting system is rigorous and takes 18 to 24 months. She said asylum-seekers are thoroughly screened by Homeland Security, the FBI and the U.S. Department of Defense.
Paula Humphrey, 69, who lives on Fairview Ave., said she is proud of Dayton for being an inclusive community that shows compassion for refugees in search of safety.
“It seems to me anyone in opposition, that’s based on fear,” she said.
Ashraf Traboulsi, founding board member and past president of the Syrian American Foundation in West Chester, said the tragedy in Paris should not lead the United States to close its borders to refugees.
“The refugees themselves are victims of what’s going on in Syria,” he said. “They fled from ISIS.”
Traboulsi said his organization represents a group of Syrian Americans who live in southwest Ohio.
He said members deeply sympathize with the pain caused by the Paris attacks, especially because more than 150 people have been killed everyday for the last four and a half years in Syria’s bloody conflict.
Traboulsi applauded the city for its welcoming policies and urged commissioners to continue to make Dayton a supportive spot for refugees.
Commissioner Matt Joseph said refusing to help people in need is the wrong response and fear based.
He said refugees can be welcomed carefully and thoughtfully and Dayton can be where some start new lives.
He said the Welcome Dayton initiative is important and beneficial, because immigrants are helping rebuild the city.
“Before we pat ourselves on the back too much, it’s in our own interest too,” he said.