North Carolina leaders from both parties on Wednesday largely backed Gov. Pat McCrory’s request that the federal government stop sending Syrian refugees to the state.
A legislative commission reviewing the issue agreed to support the governor’s stance in an apparently unanimous voice vote. And Attorney General Roy Cooper, who’s seeking to be McCrory’s Democratic challenger in next year’s election, said he also wants to “pause refugee entries to make sure we have the most effective screening process possible so our humanitarian efforts are not hijacked.”
The McCrory administration detailed its concerns to the Joint Legislative Commission on Government Operations Wednesday. Department of Public Safety Secretary Frank Perry said he remains unconvinced that the federal government is adequately screening to identify terrorist suspects.
“The collaboration that we’re after simply doesn’t exist” with the federal government, Perry said. “We’ve received nothing from Homeland Security, nothing from the FBI.”
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But while legislators and the governor are voicing concerns, they don’t have the power to turn away refugees. So far, 59 Syrian refugees have settled in North Carolina. State government has minimal involvement with the refugees, although an office in the Department of Health and Human Services does help connect them with state services.
“We can’t not receive these people,” said Jimmy Broughton, deputy chief of staff to McCrory. “That’s part of this whole frustration.”
House Speaker Tim Moore said he shares the governor’s concerns. “We have to balance trying to be a welcoming place for refugees with legitimate concerns for the safety of our state and country,” he said. “We need more robust safeguards to ensure that terrorists aren’t coming in with genuine refugees.”
Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue, a Raleigh Democrat, said the country needs a “reliable” system for vetting refugees.
“We’re talking about people who are running from wars, as a general proposition, not people who are running to be terrorists,” Blue said. “Surely we have some responsibility to help the world in this crisis.”
Charity receives threat
The calls from the governor and politicians questioning the president’s stance on refugees has created problems for people who help with the resettlement.
In Greensboro, after a threatening call came in to the Church World Services office on Tuesday, workers reported the incident to Greensboro police and the FBI.
“We have to take any threats like that seriously,” Stephanie Adams, director of the Greensboro office, said on Wednesday.
Though Adams declined to repeat what the caller said, and the details were not on a public Greensboro police report, she emphasized that her office has received mostly encouragement and words of support.
But Adams and Ellen Andrews, a worker in the Durham Church World Services office, stressed that any refugees who came in through their program have been through the federal process and vetting that can take, on average, 18 to 24 months.
“It’s really important for people to understand we have refugees who live in our communities,” Adams said. “They do not deserve to live in fear and they do not deserve to be discriminated against and harassed.”
Adams and Andrews said the politicians’ statements were having consequences that might not have been anticipated.
“It was probably an unintended consequence of the governor’s message, but the politicians need to hear this,” Andrews said. “They’re inspiring a lot of hate speech.”
Governor faces criticism
While many Democrats in North Carolina didn’t voice support for the Syrian refugee resettlement program, they blasted McCrory’s handling of the issue.
The N.C. Democratic Party criticized McCrory for skipping a White House conference call held to brief governors on the program. A spokesman for McCrory said he was on a flight traveling to the Republican Governors Association conference in Las Vegas. Perry took the call and later briefed McCrory.
“Gov. McCrory spent all week giving demagogue interviews and raising campaign funds on this sensitive and serious issue,” Democratic Party executive director Kimberly Reynolds said in a news release. “But when it came time to actually meet with the White House and his fellow governors to find a solution, Pat McCrory was nowhere to be found.”
Sen. Jim Davis, a Macon County Republican, said the governor has put an appropriate emphasis on safety concerns.
“As an elected official, I agree with the governor that our primary responsibility is to protect our citizens,” Davis said. “There is a lot of inflammatory rhetoric from the extremes, and I don’t have a desire to participate in that kind of thing.”