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Residents, groups step up pressure on Hogan on Syrian refugees

Protestors rallied in Annapolis attempting to pressure Gov. Larry Hogan to reconsider his opposition to Syrian refugees in Maryland. Hogan joined governors around the country who voiced opposition to refugee resettlement in their states. (Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun video)

A broad range of civil rights organizations, faith leaders and residents are stepping up pressure on Gov. Larry Hogan to reconsider his opposition to the resettling of Syrian refugees in Maryland.

On Friday, several dozen protesters rallied on Lawyer's Mall in Annapolis, between the governor's mansion and the State House, bellowing "Ho, Ho, Hey, Hey, Welcome to the U.S.A." On Monday, the Maryland chapter of the Syrian American Council is planning another demonstration to call on Hogan to meet with a Syrian refugee family who has already relocated to the state.

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"We hope that after meeting this family, Governor Hogan will reconsider his position," said Omar Hossino, a spokesman for the council. "Even if he doesn't change his opinion immediately, we think if he meets the newest residents of Maryland he could learn about them and understand more and it will open a dialogue."

Hogan this week joined a group of largely Republican governors who contend that the federal government should not allow the resettlement of additional refugees who might pose a security risk. Hogan asked for resettlements to be halted until the U.S. government can provide assurances refugees are thoroughly vetted.

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Hogan's office reiterated that stance on Friday. "The governor's first priority is the safety and security of Marylanders, and that will never change," spokesman Matthew A. Clark said.

The debate emerged following the terrorist attacks in Paris left 130 dead. The Islamic State, based in Syria and Iraq, has claimed responsibility.

While governors can protest, they have little power to block the resettlement of refugees in their states. U.S. House Republicans and some Democrats voted overwhelmingly Thursday for legislation to stop the resettlements, but President Barack Obama has said he would veto such a measure.

Hossino said refugees are fleeing Syria in fear of ISIS, government and rebel forces, and "want more than anyone a rigorous resettlement process to make sure everyone is safe and secure."

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The council expects to be joined on Monday by representatives from the Anti-Defamation League, faith leaders and activists from the American Civil Liberties Union and NAACP.

The governor has received a significant number of letters and emails on the issue in recent days. His office didn't respond to a question about meeting with the Syrian family.

The Howard County Council's four Democrats sent an open letter to Hogan on Friday, saying they were "alarmed" by Hogan's request "to close Maryland to Syrian men, women, and children seeking refuge in our state."

And Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake signed an a open letter to Congress on Friday, along with 62 mayors from 28 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, urging lawmakers to allow Syrian refugees to come to the United States once they have completed the screening process.

The mayor has heard "overwhelming support for her belief that we must hold firm to our values as Americans and continue to be welcoming to refugees fleeing crisis," said Howard Libit, the mayor's spokesman. "The concept that virtually all our ancestors immigrated to this country at one time is resonating with people in Baltimore City and Maryland."

St. Mary's College political scientist Todd Eberly said the issue resonates with the public, even those with no direct ties to the refugees, especially as political leaders draw so much attention to it.

He said Republicans, in opposing Obama's efforts to take in 10,000 refugees, have stoked fears in ordinary Americans that intensified after the terrorist attacks in Paris.

Democrats, meanwhile, have used the events to drum up compassion, he said.

"You can play to the fears of people to generate support, and on the other side, you have folks saying this is just not what America should be doing. People are under attack and being persecuted and we should open our doors to them," Eberly said. "Any time the two parties have the opportunity to present voters with such a black-and-white choice, they leap on it."

About 50 people rallying in Annapolis on Friday said they believe Hogan's move reflects badly on the state.

Rudwan Abu-rumman, president of the Anne Arundel County Muslim Council, said Hogan was jumping on a bandwagon with other Republicans instead of thoughtfully considering the impact of his request.

"This is not about ISIS — this is about dirty politics," said Abu-rumman, who came to the U.S. from Jordan in 1990.

Jim Stricker of Harwood said he organized the demonstration through social media with help from the liberal group moveon.org.

The protest was briefly interrupted by Rodney DeShong, who began shouting that people should pay more attention to issues facing the veterans and the homeless. The group of protesters chanted "Compassion is courage" until police walked DeShong away from the gathering.

"Is it not in our best interests to welcome Syrian refugees?" a demonstrator, Tim Patrick, asked the crowd. "It is a Christian principle, it is a Muslim principle, it is a Jewish principle to do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

Baltimore Sun Media Group reporters Rema Rahman and Amanda Yeager contributed to this article.

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