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York lawmakers urge caution on Syrian refugees

Greg Gross

All six Republican representatives from York County signed a letter to Gov. Tom Wolf urging him to reconsider allowing Syrian refugees into the state.

"This decision places the welfare of individuals who live thousands of miles away above the welfare of the Pennsylvanians you were elected to serve," the letter states.

Wolf, a Democrat, announced on Monday his administration will continue working with the federal government to resettle Syrian refugees in Pennsylvania.

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Wolf said that the federal government believes it can handle an additional 10,000 refugees that the White House said in September that it would accept from Syria. Pennsylvania's Department of Human Services says 14 Syrian refugees have arrived in the state since Oct. 1.

Millions of people have fled war-torn Syria since the deadly conflict started in 2011.

Rep. Kevin Schreiber, D-York City, didn't sign the letter but understands this is an emotional issue, adding fear can't get in the way of doing what's morally just.

"Refugees are people. They are families fleeing the same evil that we fear and fight," he said. "Whether you are a Christian believer, non believer or of other denomination, as a moral compass the Bible professes to do unto others as you would have done unto you. If I were homeless, I hope someone would offer me shelter."

Letter: The letter, crafted by Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler, includes the signatures of more than 100 representatives. York's state Reps. Seth Grove, R-Dover Township; Kristin Phillips-Hill, R-York Township; Stan Saylor, R-Windsor Township; Kate Klunk, R-Hanover; Mike Regan, R-Dillsburg; and Keith Gillespie, R-Hellam Township, signed the letter.

"Our phones (have been) ringing off the hook these past two days from people who have concerns," Klunk said.

Klunk said she is worried about federal background checks being performed and would like the state to pause before letting refugees into the state.

"I think the governor should be working with federal representatives to make sure we have security measures are in place," she said, adding she's not sure what the federal vetting process entails.

The letter notes one of the Paris attackers reportedly entered France posing as a Syrian refugee.

Authorities said a Syrian passport found near one of the Paris attackers that had been registered last month and traveled through three countries along a busy migrant corridor known for lax controls. It was not clear whether the document was real or forged. Most of the other attackers appear to have been born in Europe, some hailing from France.

Governors from more than half the 50 states said they won't allow refugees to be relocated to their states, although there is yet uncertainty regarding the legality of individual states refusing refugees if the decision is made at the federal level.

Wolf replies: In response to the GOP-drafted letter, Wolf laid out security checks the refugees must pass before being allowed into the United States.

The National Counterterrorism Center, FBI, Department of State, Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense all have a hand in the process.

"Pennsylvania will not seek to disrupt the efforts to resettle refugees from humanitarian crises throughout the world, including Syria," Wolf said in his letter.

He also noted Pennsylvania and the nation has a long history of taking people, from Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazis to Vietnamese refugees, under its wings.

"It's important to remember, we are a country of immigrants and we are a country that comes to the aid of others in times of crisis," Schreiber said.  "If we react with fear or xenophobia, we embolden those that wish for us and refugees to live in fear and terror."

Wagner: Though he didn't sign the letter, state Sen. Scott Wagner, R-Spring Garden Township,  urged caution in allowing the refugees to settle in Pennsylvania.

“The men, women, and children fleeing for their lives should be welcomed into this nation with open arms, but only after we’re able to ensure that they are not here to cause our own citizens harm,” the statement said. “There is a lot of uncertainty today about how these refugees are vetted, and Governor Wolf’s number one priority should be protecting the citizens of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania."

Federal lawmakers: Citing safety concerns, Rep. Scott Petty, R-Dillsburg, and Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., also urged the president to temporarily suspend allowing the refugees into the country.

During a York 912 Patriots meeting, where Perry was the keynote speaker, on Thursday he was asked by one attendee about the "influx on the Muslims and ISIS (Islamic State) coming across our border."

"The normal vetting process for normal asylum seekers is 18 to 24 months. These people are traveling without documentation. Many are young male individuals," Perry said, noting he doesn't characterize Muslims as bad people. "If we had a civil war in the United States ... I don't see myself going to Canada or Mexico. I see myself staying and fighting for my country."

In Syria's case, rebels are fighting government forces after security forces opened fire on pro-democracy demonstrators in 2011. Since then, the country has descended into what is essentially a civil war with numerous warring factions.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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