PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto's decision to still allow as many as 500 Syrian refugees to relocate to the Steel City has become a divisive issue among many.
While U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, said the acceptance of Syrian refugees poses a real threat, Yinka Williams, the executive director of Acculturation for Justice, Access and Peace Outreach, said the U.S. can’t turn its back on these people.
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"We are the ones who preach to the rest of the world that we need to be democratic and free and that is all that all of those refugees who come into this country are truly seeking for," Williams said.
Williams, who emigrated from Nigeria and is now a U.S. citizen working for the nonprofit AJAPO in the Hill District, said the Syrian refugees desperately need help.
"We shouldn't approach this out of fear. We have to approach this out of who we are and who we are is that we are a welcoming people," she said.
Target 11 investigator Rick Earle learned that 24,422 refugees have been relocated to Pennsylvania during the last decade. Nearly 4,000 of them settled in Pittsburgh, with about 2,000 arriving from the Asian country of Bhutan, 400 from Iraq, three from Afghanistan. Ten arrived this year from Syria.
"We are a welcoming country. We've had refugees since the beginning of time, but that's not the issue. The issue is the safety and security of America," Murphy said.
Murphy voted last week to temporarily block Syrian refugees from entering the U.S., a measure that overwhelming passed the House.
While the state department said refugees are screened by the FBI, Homeland Security and the National Counter Terrorism Center, using IRS scans, fingerprints and medical exams, Murphy, who recently met with those departments, said they left a lot of questions unanswered.
"Can you tell us specifically what things you can use to vet these people coming over to make sure they are not terrorists and that said we've got nothing," Murphy said.
He said he also doesn't take any comfort in a recent study that found of the 700,000 refugees allowed into the U.S. since 9/11, only three have been arrested for planning terrorism.
"One is too many. The FBI is following a thousand people with known suspicious of terror ties, and the issue is there are a lot of unknowns, Murphy said.
While there is no security guarantees, Williams said for most refugees, it's all about three simple things.
"It's about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for them," she said.
As for Murphy, he said he hopes the Senate will now take action to ban Syrian refugees until more safeguards are put in place.