A Takoma Park City Council resolution “affirm[ing] its duty and willingness to welcome our Syrian neighbors” in the face of “one of the worst refugee crises since World War II” passed by 6-0 last night.* The resolution text was changed slightly from the version available online before the meeting. The final “be it resolved” section reads as follows, with the additions indicated:
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the City Council of Takoma Park, Maryland hereby affirms its duty [+and willingness] to welcome our Syrian neighbors because to shut the door on those in need is inconsistent with basic values of our community.
AND BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the City of Takoma Park will work with other levels of government and non-governmental agencies [+and residents of the city] to identify ways in which the community can provide support for refugee families relocating to the Takoma Park area and integrating into our community.
The vote was preceded by comments from the public and by councilmembers.
Thomas Nephew of MCCRC shared last week’s major development — an open letter co-signed by 39 civil rights, labor, and religious groups including ACLU of Maryland, the Council on American Islamic Relations and others** urging Governor Hogan to back away from his call to stop Syrian refugee settlements in Maryland. Describing the signatories as a “rolodex of expertise,” he also shared the report “The Role of Immigrants in Growing Baltimore” (.PDF), developed by that city and one of those signatories (International Rescue Committee). Nephew closed: “Maybe Governor Hogan, however inadvertently, did something for all of us to be thankful for.”
Nancy Abbott Young recalled her father, former Takoma Park mayor — and Syrian American — Sam Abbott, and his fight to establish Takoma Park as a sanctuary city. She also decried Governor Hogan’s “conflation of ‘terrorists’ with ‘refugees’ and in this case, with Syrian refugees in particular…” She closed,
“…as Sam’s daughter, as a proud American of Syrian descent, as a Marylander, as someone born and bred in Takoma Park, I salute this Resolution and the spirit of humanity, inclusion, and fighting justice which informs it.”
Linda Rabben, Sue Wheaton, Rohini Pande, and Liana Smith also spoke for the resolution; watch this space for summaries of some of their remarks.
Councilmembers had a variety of final comments to make. Councilmember Seamens spoke of “understandable negative reaction” to the idea of accepting Syrian refugees, but reminded people there were similar concerns about Cuban and other refugees at one time. “It’s important that we recognize those fears, but also remind people that we have a process, especially since the Refugee Act of 1980, that has been very successful.”
Councilmember Shultz wanted people to know that he was “utterly, thoroughly outraged by Governor Hogan’s words”; He also found “irony” in recent shootings such as in Colorado. “Those that are concerned about terror in the United States — it seems that it’s the Americans that are causing us all this sadness and tragedy.” He said it would be “incumbent on the community to organize around this issue,” noting email exchanges with Thomas Nephew on the subject.
Councilmember Kovar noted the “interesting idea” in the Baltimore report of “engaging with immigrants within the city” on small business, housing and other policy, even if Takoma Park had less resources to do so than a city like Baltimore.
Mayor Stewart concluded council remarks: “Unfortunately it seems that weekly we’re reminded of the terrible consequences of extremism, and the heightening of fears by incendiary rhetoric. … Tonight, this is our way of countering some of what’s happening and remind the world that compassion and empathy are far better ways to build inclusive, strong and healthy communities.”
The council then passed the resolution unanimously, to applause from its audience. The Takoma Park City Council deserves our respect and admiration for grappling with this issue and rising to the occasion. It remains up to citizens to use this opening to organize a community response to the Syrian refugee crisis — and learn how to better integrate all immigrants to the city.
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Attachment: final version of Takoma Park Resolution 2015-66
(version before minor modifications here)
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* The missing 7th vote was that of Councilmember Tim Male, who works at the White House and was therefore compelled to recuse himself from a vote touching on matters of federal policy.
** Including MCCRC.