FROM PROGRESSIVE TO CONSERVATIVE: Gov. Baker says no to Syrian refugees in Massachusetts


 

BOSTON (AP) — Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker says he’s opposed to allowing Syrian refugees into the state in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Paris.

The Republican said Monday the safety of Massachusetts residents is his first priority. He said he would have to know a lot more about the federal government’s vetting process before allowing Syrian refugees into the state — although he may not have the final say.

‘‘I think at this point in time we would have to be very cautious about accepting folks without knowing a lot more about what the federal government’s plan looks like,’’ Baker said. ‘‘I would certainly say no until I know a lot more than I know now.’’

Baker added that he’s going to ‘‘set the bar really high’’ on the question of accepting refugees.

‘‘The safety and security of the people of the commonwealth of Mass. is my highest priority,’’ he said. ‘‘I’m always going to be willing to at least hear what the federal government has to say. As a public official, that’s my job. Hearing what they have to say does not mean saying yes.’’

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh echoed Baker, saying he also wants to know more about the screening process.

Both Baker and Walsh said they’ve had no conversations with federal officials since the attacks.

‘‘I think there’s going to be opportunity for both the governor at the state level and the city to weigh in on this,’’ Walsh, a Democrat, told reporters. ‘‘But right now ultimately it’s the federal government’s decision, and we don’t have a say in the matter today.’’

In a written statement issued later Monday, Walsh said, ‘‘Should we be told that Boston is accepting refugees, we will work with our partners at the federal, state and local levels to ensure the safety of Boston residents.’’

Members of the state’s all-Democratic congressional delegation said that while a strong vetting process is needed, Massachusetts should be willing to accept refugees.

‘‘We should not close our hearts or our doors to the women, children and families that are fleeing the Middle East to escape war and the daily terror, violence and chaos it brings,’’ U.S. Sen. Edward Markey said in a statement.

U.S. Rep. James McGovern said that while he agrees the state needs to be cautious in the wake of the Paris attacks, he has serious concerns about any policy that would shut the door to Syrian refugees.

‘‘The people who are fleeing Syria are the very people who are harmed most by terrorism,’’ he said. ‘‘Turning our back on these refugees now is not the answer.’’

Several governors are temporarily halting efforts to allow Syrian refugees into their states, responding to heightened concerns that terrorists might use the refugees as cover to sneak across borders.

One of the attackers in Paris had a Syrian passport, and the Paris prosecutors’ office says fingerprints from the attacker match those of someone who passed through Greece in October.

Millions of Syrians have fled to neighboring Middle Eastern countries and Europe, and President Barack Obama’s administration has pledged to accept about 10,000 Syrian refugees in the next 12 months. The U.S. State Department said the refugees would be spread across the country.

Under the Refugee Act of 1980 governors cannot legally block refugees from settling in their communities, according to Lavinia Limon, president and CEO of the U.S Committee for Refugees and Immigration.

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BRAVO: Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy to Syrian refugees: Come on down

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While governors across the United States are putting the brakes on accepting Syrian refugees in their states in the wake of last week’s terrorist attacks in Paris, Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy seems to be saying, “Come on down.”

The Hartford Courant quoted a Malloy spokesman Monday as saying that the Nutmeg State will continue to accept Syrian refugees but is waiting for further direction from the federal government.

“Obviously in light of the tragedy in Paris, we have questions about the Department of Homeland Security’s screening measures for refugees entering our country,” Devon Puglia, the governor’s director of communications, was quoted by the newspaper as saying. “We are continuing to work with and await guidance from the appropriate federal agencies on screening measures that will be taken. With that said, if refugees — many who are children fleeing a horrific, war-torn country — seek and are granted asylum after a rigorous security process, we should and will welcome them in Connecticut.”

Chris George, executive director of Integrated Refugee and Immigration Services in New Haven said Connecticut’s decision is “smart and compassionate.”

He told the New Haven Register that there are about a dozen Syrian refugee families in the New Haven area, who underwent a two- to three-year screening process before being allowed to move into the state.

“(It’s) completely in tune with his constituents, with the people from Connecticut who have overwhelmingly expressed concerns for Syrian refugees,” George told the Register, speaking of Malloy’s decision. “That is a thoughtful and measured response that all governors should take.”

This is in sharp contrast to a number of other governors in the United States, including Massachusetts’ own Charlie Baker who said given reports, such as one in the Christian Science Monitor, that one of the suicide bombers had gained access to Europe posing as a Syrian refugee that he is currently opposed to allowing more refugees to relocate to the Bay State.

“I would say ‘no’ as of right now,” Baker said, speaking to reporters at the Statehouse on Monday. “I’m not interested in accepting refugees from Syria. I would need to know a lot more than I know now before I agree to do anything.”

According to The Hill, governors who have made statements saying they would ban Syrian refugees include Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott; Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson; and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence. All six are Republicans, and Jindal is running for president.

Baker did not entirely rule out accepting refugees in the future, if the federal government establishes an appropriate vetting process.

“I’m always going to be willing to at least hear what the federal government has to say. I think as a public official, that’s my job,” Baker said.

But Baker said he will “set the bar really high” before he agrees to allow any refugees into Massachusetts.

“My view on this is that the safety and security of the people of the commonwealth of Massachusetts is the highest priority, so I would set the bar very high on this,” Baker said.

“At this point in time, we would have to be very cautious about accepting folks without knowing a lot more about what the federal government’s plan looks like and how it would actually be implemented and executed on,” Baker said. “I would certainly say no until I know a lot more than I know now.”

Another Republican governor in New England sent mixed signals about the issue before coming down soundly on the side of colleagues like Baker.

“To bring Syrian refugees into our country without knowing who they are is to invite an attack on American soil just like the one we saw in Paris last week and in New York City on 9/11,” Maine Gov. Paul LePage said in a written statement quoted by the Portland Press Herald. “That is why I adamantly oppose any attempt by the federal government to place Syrian refugees in Maine, and will take every lawful measure in my power to prevent it from happening.”

Earlier in the day, Monday, LePage talked with reporters about the issue at the statehouse, but stopped short of saying he would oppose accepting Syrian refugees in Maine.

“I’m with them … because I’m concerned for Maine people, period,” the governor said in response to a question about other governors’ actions, the newspaper quoted LePage via WCSH-TV. “I want to protect Maine people. You remember 9/11? I think some people came through Maine? And they did a lot of damage in New York. I think we need to be very diligent, very on top of this issue.”

Asked to clarify LePages’ statement, spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett said the governor did not say Maine would reject refugees. She said he planned to attend the Republican Governors Association annual conference in Las Vegas this week and hoped to discuss the resettlement issue with other Republican state leaders.

But as the day went by, LePage hardened his stance and, before the end of the day,  made his opposition clear.

The controversy over Syrian refugees has raged for months. With that country in a civil war, its citizens are fleeing into other countries, overwhelming some. In response, the United States has agreed to take some of the refugees into this country. However, with Syria also being the base for ISIS, some have suggested the refugees crisis would be an easy way for terrorists to sneak into unsuspecting countries.

One Democratic governor in New England is also currently opposed to accepting Syrian refugees. a spokesman for New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan told the Union-Leader that more information is needed before refugees should be allowed to resume coming into the United States.

“Protecting the safety and security of our people is the first responsibility of government,” spokesman William Hinkle said. “And the governor has always made clear that we must ensure robust refugee screening to protect American citizens, and believes that we must know more of the facts about those who carried out the Paris terrorist attacks and have strong assurances of safety from our intelligence officials before we admit refugees from Syria into the United States.”

Back in Connecticut, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal called for the government to streamline the screening process for refugees.

“Most refugees seeking asylum in the United States today are simply seeking to escape brutal violence and persecution,” Blumenthal told the Courant. “We need to make sure we have a strong and effective screening process to identify anyone who poses a risk to our security, but we should not ignore the humanitarian crisis that is underway.”

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Obama calls idea of screening Syrian refugees based on religion ‘shameful,’ defends White House strategy

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Speaking to reporters in Antalya, Turkey, on Monday, President Obama said his approach to countering the so-called Islamic State “is the strategy that ultimately is going to work” but that the terrorist network still can exact serious damage worldwide.

“But understand that one of the challenges we have in this situation is that if you have a handful of people who don’t mind dying, they can kill a lot of people,” Obama said in a news conference after the conclusion of the Group of 20 summit there. “That’s one of the challenges of terrorism. It’s not their sophistication or the particular weaponry that they possess, but it is the ideology they carry with them and their willingness to die.”

[Raids spread across France and Belgium amid manhunt for suspects]

Obama also pointedly addressed the issue of whether the United States and other countries should continue to accept refugees, given the fact that one of the participants in the Paris plot may have come in with Syrian migrants. He said the United States would continue to accept more refugees from Syria and elsewhere, though “only after subjecting them to rigorous screening and security checks.”

“Slamming the door in their faces would be a betrayal of our values,” he said. “Our nations can welcome refugees who are desperately seeking safety and ensure our own security. We can and must do both.”

Without directly naming GOP presidential candidates, the president blasted political leaders for suggesting the United States should accept only Christians fleeing Syria. He alluded to the fact that some of these same politicians — namely Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), whose father fled Cuba decades ago – -had benefited from America’s willingness to accept refugees.

“And when I hear folks say that, well, maybe we should just admit the Christians but not the Muslims, when I hear political leaders suggesting that there would be a religious test for which person who’s fleeing from a war-torn country is admitted, when some of those folks themselves come from families who benefited from protection when they were fleeing political persecution, that’s shameful,” he said, his voice rising. “That’s not American. That’s not who we are. We don’t have religious tests to our compassion.”

The president noted that the world’s most prominent Christian leader, Pope Francis, did not frame the Syrian refugee crisis in the same terms as several Republican leaders.

“When Pope Francis came to visit the United States and gave a speech before Congress, he didn’t just speak about Christians who were being persecuted, he didn’t call on Catholic parishes just to admit those who were of the same religious faith, he said protect people who were vulnerable,” Obama said. “And so I think it is very important for us right now, particularly those who are in leadership, particularly those who have a platform and can be heard, not to fall into that trap, not to feed that dark impulse inside of us.”

Cruz, for his part, laughed before telling reporters in Sun City, S.C. what he thought about the president’s comments.

“It is one of the saddest things we’ve seen for seven years, that President Obama has consistently abandoned and alienated our friends and allies and has coddled and appeased our enemies. And that is never more true than with radical Islamic terrorism,” he said. “Both President Obama and Hillary Clinton want to define the enemy as some sort of abstract and ill-defined violent extremism. That means they cannot direct a strategy to defeat it because they cannot acknowledge who they’re fighting.”

At other points in the news conference Obama repeatedly defended his military, counterterrorism and diplomatic strategy against Islamist extremists, saying that it represents the only sustained way degrade the Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL, and to resolve Syria’s protracted civil war.

“So, there will be an intensification of the strategy we put forward, but the strategy that we are putting forward is the strategy that ultimately is going to work,” Obama said, adding that he encouraged the other leaders at the summit to contribute more in terms of military and humanitarian resources.

He also reiterated that he was unwilling to dispatch major ground troops to Syria in order to confront the threat there.

“The one exception is that there had been a few who suggested that we should put large numbers of U.S. troops on the ground,” he said, “And it is not just my view, but the view of my closest military and civilian advisers that that would be a mistake, not because our military could not march into Mosul or Raqqa or Ramadi and temporarily clear out ISIL, but because we would see a repetition of what we’ve seen before, which is if you do not have local populations that are committed to inclusive governance and who are pushing back against ideological extremes, that they resurface unless we’re prepared to have a permanent occupation of these countries.”

The president had sharp words for some of his critics, arguing that they have not offered a detailed strategy that is different from his, beyond calling for additional ground troops.

“I think that, when you listen to what they actually have to say, what they’re proposing, most of the time, when pressed, they describe things we’re already doing,” Obama said. “Some of them seem to think that, if I was just more bellicose in expressing what we’re doing, that that would make a difference. Because that seems to be the only thing that they’re doing, is talking as if they’re tough.”

“My only interest is to end suffering and to keep the American people safe,” he added, saying that he was open to other ideas. “But we do not do, what I do not do, is to take actions either because it is going to work politically or it is somehow, in the abstract, make America look tough or make me look tough.”

Noting that he regularly visits wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Medical Center, the president said he was well aware of the cost of war.

“And I see a 25-year-old kid that is paralyzed or has lost his limbs. And some of those are people I’ve ordered into battle,” he said. “So I can’t afford to play some of the political games that others may.”

Under repeated questioning by reporters, the president appeared annoyed at times. Asked again by CNN’s Jim Acosta why the United States would not take more aggressive action, Obama replied, “Well, Jim, I just spent the last three questions answering that very question. So, I don’t know what more you want me to add.”

Asked whether the United States had advance warning of the Paris attacks, Obama said that while American intelligence regularly detects hints of possible threats, “there were no specific mentions of this particular attack that would give us a sense of something that we need — that we could provide French authorities, for example, or act on ourselves.”