Lawmakers weigh in on Syrian refugees in Hawaii

U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono, D, Hawaii

Gov. David Ige’s statement supporting President Obama’s commitment to accepting refugees from Syria has drawn a lot of reaction, especially from lawmakers.

That includes Hawaii Sen. Sam Slom, R, Senate Minority Leader, who wrote a letter Tuesday urging the governor to reconsider his position.

The President announced a plan to resettle at least 10,000 Syrian refugees in the United States next year.

But Sen. Slom says Hawaii still faces security concerns and lack of state resources.

The following are excerpts from Sen. Slom’s letter:

“Like you, I celebrate Hawaii’s unique Aloha Spirit, openness and sense of welcome. However, there are limits and practical realities to every stated policy. I appreciate your comments on safety being your primary concern, but I don’t believe that actual events protect or guarantee that safety- or security- in light of recent events in Paris and elsewhere.

“Hawaii is already short on critical resources like housing. Just take a look at our homeless situation, look at how hard it is to find affordable rent, look at the Department of Health and the Department of Human Services and the work they’ve taken on with the COFA immigrants. We can be compassionate, we can extend the Aloha Spirit, but it is important to also be realistic and pragmatic with our state resources.”

U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono, D, Hawaii, spoke out Tuesday in support of Gov. Ige:

“I agree with Governor Ige that our first priority is the safety of Americans and of course the people of Hawaii and at the same time to open our doors to refugees who are fleeing from war and oppression in their homes.

“Now, remember that the Syrian refugees are vetted intensely before they can even come into our country. This process takes anywhere from 18 months to two years.

“Our country has a history of welcoming refugees who escape war and oppression in their homes, as I mentioned. And the war in Syria has been going on for over four years. Over 250,000 Syrians have died. Millions have been displaced. And so our country welcoming them after a very intense vetting process is something that is really in line with the values of our country. Of course for the state of Hawaii, we have a long tradition of welcoming people from different cultures and respect their backgrounds and their cultures.

“I’m proud that Governor Ige is living up to the traditions of our country as well as the state of Hawaii and I’m really saddened that other governors are unilaterally seeking to close their states to refugees who are looking to our country as the place of hope and safety. Not to mention that the governors cannot unilaterally close their borders in this way.”

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D, Hawaii, says she has yet to take a position.

“I’m currently going through and doing my due diligence on this vetting process and getting all the details that I need in order to take a position on this. Right now, we have not been given complete and full information on this subject, so before I take a position on it, I want to make sure I get all the info on the vetting process from the appropriate departments, from the Homeland Security, the intelligence community, and so on and so forth,” she said.

“The most humane thing we can do is stop creating new refugees, to make it so that Syria is a place where people can come back to and live once again,” Gabbard added. “The first thing we need to do in order to accomplish this is to end the illegal counterproductive war to overthrow the Syrian government because this is what’s creating so many casualties and so many refugees. The second thing we need to do is focus on our mission in destroying ISIS, al Qaeda and other Islamic extremist groups that carry out these genocide and making it so people of Syria have to flee.”

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