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Lisman And Scott Want To Suspend Plan To Bring Syrian Refugees To Vermont

Darko Vojinovic
After Friday's attacks in Paris, U.S. governors are trying to block Syrian refuges, like the ones seen here in southern Serbian on Monday, entrance to their states.

Bruce Lisman and Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, Vermont's two Republican gubernatorial candidates, say the state should hold off on allowing refugees from Syria to settle in Vermont.

Their comments come in the wake of Gov. Peter Shumlin’s call for the state to welcome the refugees.

Attacks in Paris and elsewhere have sparked concerns about the Obama administration’s plans to bring 10,000 Syrian refugees into the United States.

This week, more than two dozen Republican governors said they would try to block Syrian refugees from coming to their states, a development that Gov. Peter Shumlin says has surprised and disappointed him.

Shumlin says this country must show compassion for the plight of those fleeing for their lives.

“Where when people are dying, when people’s lives are being threatened," says Shumlin. "When they are getting in little rafts to escape wherever they were, risking their lives, losing their lives in many cases to get there, that we don’t become the country that says, ‘We’re closing the borders, we don’t trust you and we’re not going to let you in.'”

Governors of Maine and Massachusettshave declared that they will try to stop any effort to settle Syrian refugees in their states.

New Hampshire’s governor has called for a halt to bringing refugees from Syria to the U.S. until security concerns are addressed.

Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, who is running for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, says the state should follow suit.

“I think it’s incumbent upon us to do the same until such time as the federal government can prove it's meeting its national security obligations," said Scott. "Making sure that there is a rigorous process to be sure that it’s just peace-loving Syrians and others that want to come into our states."

He says the most important consideration has to be the safety of Vermonters.

"I think it's incumbent upon us to do the same until such time as the federal government can prove its meeting its national security obligations, making sure that there is a rigorous process to be sure that it's just peace-loving Syrians and others that want to come into our states." - Lt. Gov. Phil Scott

Both Democrats who hope to replace Shumlin in next year’s election lined up behind the governor.

“I know that refugees are screened at the highest levels of government and I am not concerned too much about that problem,” said Sue Minter. “I mostly feel we have an obligation to help those in need.”

“Vermont’s future is predicated on diversity and maintaining our sense of community. If we stop being a welcoming state, Vermont ceases to be Vermont,” said Matt Dunne, adding that the federal government must ensure that resettlement is safe.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Lisman issued a statement calling on the state to “take a step back” until security concerns are addressed.

“We do not want to inadvertently import dangerous people,” the statement said.

Refugee assistance organizations held a national conference call Tuesday to respond to state efforts to block Syrian refugees.

Kevin Appleby of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said the fact there’s never been a terrorist attack on U.S. soil by a refugee underscores the rigorous screening process that occurs before a refugee is admitted and sometimes continues on after an individual is settled in this country.

Appleby said it’s much easier to come to the U.S. as a student or tourist.

“There are many other ways for people to get into this country that are much easier than going through the refugee program, which requires all these background checks,” said Appleby.

It’s questionable whether states can legally close their doors to refugees, let alone refugees of a specific nationality. However, Appleby says states might be able create roadblocks by refusing some federal refugee assistance money that flows through them.

"There are many other ways for people to get into this country that are much easier than going through the refugee program." - Kevin Appleby, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

Advocates say a greater concern is the unwelcome atmosphere that might be created by some state governors.

Stacie Blake, director of government and community relations for the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, says that refugee assistance agencies consult local communities and consider how welcoming a location is when they make placement decisions.

She says it is not yet clear what impact, if any, the current uproar over Syrian refugees will have on where they are placed.

“I’ve never seen the likes of this with the current resettlement program,” Blake said.

The Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program, based in Colchester, is part of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants.

Program Director Amila Merdzanovic says the organization has been receiving inquiries about plans to bring Syrian refugees to Vermont.  

“From people wanting to understand how the system works and what the security checks are in place. No negative calls,” she said.

Merdzanovic says the program expects to settle Syrian refugees in Vermont in the next 12 months, but how many is yet to be determined.

Steve has been with VPR since 1994, first serving as host of VPR’s public affairs program and then as a reporter, based in Central Vermont. Many VPR listeners recognize Steve for his special reports from Iran, providing a glimpse of this country that is usually hidden from the rest of the world. Prior to working with VPR, Steve served as program director for WNCS for 17 years, and also worked as news director for WCVR in Randolph. A graduate of Northern Arizona University, Steve also worked for stations in Phoenix and Tucson before moving to Vermont in 1972. Steve has been honored multiple times with national and regional Edward R. Murrow Awards for his VPR reporting, including a 2011 win for best documentary for his report, Afghanistan's Other War.
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