After 130 lost their lives to terrorist attacks in Paris three weeks ago, 31 United States governors have said they will stop permitting people fleeing violence in Syria to take refuge in their states. But Connecticut has taken a different path.
Gov. Dannel Malloy and Sens. Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73 and Chris Murphy are urging the federal government to continue accepting Syrian refugees into the United States.
Connecticut’s entry into the national debate about Syrian refugees — which emerged after a fake Syrian passport was found on the body of a Paris attacker — was a grass-roots phenomenon. After Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana refused to allow a Syrian family seeking asylum to settle in the state, Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services, a refugee resettlement program run by the Episcopal Church, offered the family a home in the Elm City.
Malloy, speaking at a press conference in City Hall on Nov. 18 — the day the family arrived — said he was proud to welcome the Syrian family, calling it the “right thing to do.” Blumenthal and Murphy also publicly declared their commitment to protecting refugees the next day.
“The notion that we can’t both protect Americans from terror and save those who have been the victims of terror suggests a smallness of America that violates the best traditions of this country,” Murphy said. “I believe in American exceptionalism, and America at its best is able to secure our borders and rescue others who have been the victims of horrific terrorist attacks.”
But on Nov. 20, the federal House of Representatives passed the “American SAFE Act of 2015” to restrict the entry of Syrian refugees into the United States. The act, which seeks to ensure potential terrorists cannot manipulate the American immigration system, would require top federal officials to approve the entry of each individual asylum seeker. Of Connecticut’s five-member House delegation, only Reps. Jim Himes and Joe Courtney cast ballots in favor of the act.
Both Himes and Courtney, in statements released by their offices in November, said their votes did not come from a desire to limit the number of refugees in the country. Instead, they said, they seek to ensure all Syrian refugees coming to the United States have been properly vetted.
“The bill simply requires that our national security leaders certify that the thorough and extensive processes that are already in place to ensure the safety of our country are being followed,” Himes said. “After conversations with our national security leaders, I do not believe it will significantly increase the burden on these agencies, delay the 18–24 month wait time for refugees or impair our ability to help those fleeing the war-torn region.”
Courtney said his vote was influenced by the “legitimate concerns” of his constituents in eastern Connecticut, adding that he sees no contradiction between his vote for the bill and his commitment to protecting people fleeing violence.
Courtney and Himes have found some allies on the state level. Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano ’81, R-North Haven, sent a letter to the state’s federal delegation seeking assurance that allowing refugees into the state would not threaten the safety of residents.
“Until we can confirm the security and vetting process for refugees and guarantee that the people coming to Connecticut do not wish to cause harm to our residents, we should not grant entry,” the letter read.
But these sentiments stand in stark opposition to Malloy’s.
Malloy said the approval process for refugees entering the country is already “exhaustive” during the Nov. 18 press conference, adding that he doubts the need for a more robust vetting process.
He said that though the attackers in Paris were citizens of France and Belgium, no political leader has advocated for a ban on European immigrants. Instead, he said, political leaders have unjustly targeted Syrians.
Malloy said he was unsurprised by many political leaders’ reactions to the Paris attacks. But he said he hoped Connecticut would work to provide an alternative perspective.
“In moments of trial and tribulation, some people will lead in the wrong direction,” he said. “Hopefully, some people will lead in the right direction, and that’s what we’re trying to do in Connecticut.”