Thomas Nephew on refugee resolution: “this – not fear, not hostility — is who we are”

moccrcMy name is Thomas Nephew, I’m a member of the Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition.

I’m here to applaud all of you, especially our new mayor Kate Stewart, for your willingness to consider a resolution that would express support for Syrian refugees. It would be the right reply to our governor’s recent request that the federal government not settle them in Maryland until complete safety could be assured.

As you know, that request was misleading in many ways. First, Syrian refugees are fleeing the very violence he claims they might cause; the vast, vast majority are decent people in a terrible situation. Second, there’s already a vetting process in place that is, if anything, too strict and too glacial to do any but a small fraction of refugees any good. Finally, there’s no such thing as complete safety; we need to live our lives and be the people and city we want to be without the dishonest pretense of perfect security.

I’ve brought along a proposed resolution that I hope you’ll look at and consider. It’s based on one passed by the Chicago City Council last week; it’s nonbinding, of course, and it simply states a number of facts about Takoma Park, the refugee crisis, and current process of admitting refugees to the US, and closes by reaffirming that our city remains a sanctuary city open to refugees, urging diplomatic efforts to resolve the Syrian crisis, streamlining the lengthy vetting process, and urging everyone in our community to help with refugee organizations and relocation.

Why is this important to Takoma Park? For at least one thing, we’re a sanctuary city. As such, Governor Hogan’s statement deserves a considered, little-d democratic response by our leaders. If it’s fair for our governor to use his bully pulpit to make pronouncements about immigration and refugee policy, it’s fair – in fact necessary — for you to use yours. For another, Takoma Park is a wonderfully diverse home to many foreign-born residents – over a third, according to the Census. Finally, we’re a good city; this – not fear, not hostility — is who we are.

Why is this important to me? For one thing, like many of us – all of us, really – I have an immigrant heritage. More than that, though, I see this as a civil rights issue because of the blatantly xenophobic, Islamophobic rationale for suddenly excluding Syrian refugees; this wouldn’t be an issue if, say, a stream of Ukrainian immigrants suddenly materialized. We should be honest with ourselves that this debate about “refugees” is really a debate about some people’s discomfort with American Muslims. Such sentiments must not go unchallenged. A pro-refugee resolution would be taking a stand both for fellow human beings across the globe, and for our fellow citizens here at home.

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