Thomas Nephew on refugee resolution: “maybe Gov.Hogan did something for us to be thankful for”

I support REFUGEES IN MARYLAND because it’s the decent thing to do.

Last week I spoke for a pro-refugee resolution similar to one adopted by the Chicago City Council less than two weeks ago. I fact-checked its assertions and found one after the other to be true:

  • 7 million displaced Syrians
  • 4 million of them refugees to other countries
  • …but only 10,000 envisioned for settlement in the United States

We’re here because Governor Hogan recently implied that even one Syrian refugee was one too many for him, unless an already byzantine, years-long vetting process were further complicated and lengthened.

Since last week’s meeting there has been an important development in Maryland around this issue: 39 civil rights organizations (including one I’m part of, Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition) issued a joint letter to Governor Hogan, noting that

…calls for restricting the resettlement of Syrian refugees in Maryland only serve to stoke fear and hate and to jeopardize our moral leadership. Syrian refugees are fleeing exactly the kind of terror that unfolded on the streets of Paris. They have suffered violence just like this for almost five years. Many if not most have lost loved ones to persecution, violence, and starvation, in addition to having had their country, their community, and everything they own brutally taken away from them.

The statement is a powerful one, with the combined weight of the ACLU of Maryland, Bill of Rights Defense Committee, CASA de Maryland, Council on American Islamic Relations, the SEIU, the League of Women Voters, Montgomery County Young Democrats, and Catholic, Episcopal and United Church of Christ organizations, to name a few.

It also serves as a rolodex of expertise for this City Council, and volunteers and people of good will in our community. I reached out to the ACLU and through them to International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Maryland. Its director of that organization responded – over Thanksgiving weekend! – with a detailed report IRC produced together with the City of Baltimore, “The Role of Immigrants in Growing Baltimore” (.PDF).

The document makes clear that it’s possible to develop (in Mayor Rawlings-Blake’s words) a “sustainable plan to support and retain immigrants.” It outlines housing, workforce and small business development, safety and youth policy responses. While not all of the detailed plan is applicable to a small town like ours, the report serves as a resource and model for thinking through what our town needs to do to attract and better serve its present and future immigrant residents.

I’ve shared it with my Councilman, Peter Kovar; I look forward to working with whomever will join me and leaders like Lois Wessel or Liana Smith to perhaps build something like Baltimore’s “New Americans Task Force” — and more importantly, work with City Council for real action for refugees and all immigrants.

Maybe Governor Hogan, however inadvertently, did something for all of us to be thankful for: galvanizing a generous, unprejudiced response to those in need. It almost sounds like a Christmas story.

[as prepared]

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