Eleven representatives from an ad hoc coalition of local community and faith-based organizations visited Sen. Chuck Schumer’s office last Monday, urging him to advocate for the prompt resettlement of “a substantial number” of Syrian refugees in the Hudson Valley and Westchester county.
The coalition, composed of the numerous Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, and secular organizations that signed Refugees: A Call to Action by the Westchester, Rockland, and Hudson Valley Community, thanked Schumer for recognizing “the need for the US to provide for and resettle war displaced refugees,” and encouraged him to use his status in the Senate to “take a leading stand in support of the refugees,” according to a press release from WESPAC Foundation Director Nada Khader.
The representatives hope to meet with Rep. Nita Loewy in the coming weeks.
“Our purpose is to send a message to our elected officials to inform them that there are dozens of local host institutions that are willing to take in families, and thus we would like our elected officials to expedite the asylum process for families who desperately need safety and refuge,” said Khader.
Howard Horowitz, a representative for Temple Israel of New Rochelle and one of the activists who visited Schumer’s office, advocated for increasing the number of refugee resettlements in the US.
“We believe that all people–regardless of race, nationality, religion, gender, sexual orientation, ability, or legal status–deserve to live in freedom and safety,” said Horowitz.
The United States has offered to take in 10,000 refugees misplaced by the Syrian civil war. However, following terrorist attacks in Paris earlier this month, some have called for a pause to the program. Last week, the House of Representatives passed a bill requiring additional screening for refugees from Syria and Iraq.
On the county level, County Executive Rob Astorino has cited safety concerns in support of tougher screening.
“I have great sympathy for the Syrian refugees but the safety and security of our citizens must come first,” said County Executive Rob Astorino. “When the Director of the FBI says we’re unable to conduct thorough background checks on the refugees and when the Director of National Intelligence calls the prospect of ISIS terrorists slipping in with the refugees a ‘huge concern’ we must exercise extreme caution.”
Andrew Courtney, a WESPAC Foundation activist and retired teacher, is confident that the current screening process is tough enough.
“Two years of vetting is so severe. We all know that that any terrorist who has any IQ at all is not going to spend two years in the United States vetting process,” said Courtney.
Support for the group is growing at a surprising pace. Courtney helped to organize the ad hoc group when it was composed of only four members. Now their call to action has been signed by 32 organizations, including Katonah United Methodist Church, Jewish Voice for Peace, Mental Health Association of Westchester County, and Pace Community Law Practice, all within four weeks of the coalition’s creation.
“We welcome the tired, the poor, the hungry, and endangered to our country and community,” reads the call to action. “We cannot be witness and not take action.”