Last month, 76 members of the Maryland General Assembly sent a letter to Governor Larry Hogan supporting the resettlement of Syrian refugees in their state. The letter is a response to Governor Hogan's statements-- in line with those of other governors in the aftermath of the Paris attacks last fall--that he would oppose resettling refugees into the state.
The state lawmakers decried the Governor's words, writing that America was founded, "as a haven of refuge (...) for people all over the world seeking a new life free from repression and war."
Now more than ever before, governors and state officials have inserted themselves in the refugee conversation, therefore putting their stances up for scrutiny. If governors and state officials feel comfortable vocalizing their opposition to resettling refugees, it is integral that representatives across the country that support resettlement also speak out, therefore leveling the playing field. This is why we want to publicly applaud the 76 Maryland representatives who recognize America's moral alignment to refugees.
The letter comes on the heels of a series of formal letters and resolutions in support of the resettlement of Syrian refugees to Maryland. These letters and resolutions have been formulated by Prince George's County, Montgomery County, Howard County, Takoma Park, Greenbelt, Hyattsville, Rockville, and College Park, as well as local organizations and Mayor of Baltimore Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.
Judging by the diverse range of Maryland proponents, the state clearly touts a robust appetite for humanitarianism.
The Maryland letter was drafted by Senator Jamie Raskin. He details the rigorous vetting process that refugees undergo to ensure they do not pose any threat to the country. The refugee resettlement program is actually the most arduous route with which to enter the country. This, in part, is why national security experts have endorsed refugee resettlement, despite statements from lawmakers like Governor Hogan.
The letter also stresses Maryland's tradition of welcoming refugees fleeing crisis, saying "there is no justification for us to cut and run from our basic values today."
Representatives in other states like Hy Kloc in Idaho or Gayle Goldin in Rhode Island have also declared their endorsement for resettling refugees to the United States and their home state. Kloc argues the U.S. must play a role in the current refugee challenge, and called upon citizens to request that lawmakers support resettlement.
Although refugee policy lays solely in the power of the federal government via the annual presidential determination, the state's role in supporting resettlement is crucial. States can employ rhetoric that embraces refugees, and aligns programs to help them through the integration process. Those states receive the contributions of refugees, while those who seek to reject refugees only hurt their ability to integrate them successfully.
Moreover, since last fall, governors and local lawmakers are taking a closer look at the U.S. resettlement process. If governors and local lawmakers feel empowered to state their objections to refugees, those in support have an obligation to voice their endorsement of resettlement.
Such increased activism of state representatives might contribute to a discussion on refugee resettlement that not only focuses on security concerns raised by certain governors, but also spotlights the U.S.'s tradition of being a haven for refugees and their contributions to our country.
It should also be noted that the letter was spearheaded the by Maryland Welcomes Refugees group--a group of citizens and activists committed to Syrian resettlement. It is important that more citizens take a cue from these peers and speak out about resettlement. There is no shortage of support around the nation, as a poll conducted by Amnesty International found that 71% of the U.S. citizens support letting refugees into the country. The pro-refugee sentiment is popular in America.
While opponents of resettling refugees tend to be the shrillest voices in these discussions, pro-refugee advocates --including state and local representatives and citizens--should not be afraid to also speak up and highlight that the opponents hardly speak out for all Americans. They are actually in the minority.
We applaud local lawmakers for endorsing Syrian refugee resettlement and hope to see this trend continue across the country.