ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Larry Hogan on Tuesday called for the federal government to stop resettling Syrian refugees in Maryland until it can prove they are not a threat to public safety.
“As governor of Maryland, the safety and security of Marylanders remains my first priority,” Hogan, R, said in a statement.
“Following the terrorist attacks on Paris just four days ago, and after careful consideration, I am now requesting that federal authorities cease any additional settlements of refugees from Syria in Maryland until the U.S. government can provide appropriate assurances that refugees from Syria pose no threat to public safety,” Hogan said.
Since Jan. 1, 2014, 38 Syrian refugees were resettled in Maryland — including 26 in Baltimore, one in Riverdale, one in Severna Park and 10 in Silver Spring — according to the U.S. Department of State.
“We need to take a hard look at who we are providing refuge to in this country, and a strict vetting process needs to be put into place to ensure that we prioritize those Christians and Yazidis who are escaping religious persecution in the Middle East,” said U.S. Rep. Andy Harris, R-Cockeysville.
Nationwide, since Jan. 1, 2014, there were 2,078 Syrian refugees resettled across the United States; of those, 1,943 were Sunni Muslims, 57 were identified as Muslims, 37 were identified as Christians, 11 as Shiite Muslim, and the remainder as atheists, Catholics, Baha’i, Jehovah’s Witnesses, no religion, other religion, orthodox and Zoroastrian, according to the State Department.
“With the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, and Maryland’s neighbor, Washington, D.C., being named a prime target of ISIS, we cannot afford to make any more mistakes in our foreign policy,” Harris said.
“Denying safety to people based solely on their faith or country of origin is intolerant. Intolerance is a national Republican value, not a Maryland value,” said Pat Murray, executive director for the Maryland Democratic Party, in a statement.
Hogan joined a number of governors — including at least one Democrat — and GOP presidential nominees who have come out against the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the United States.
In September, President Barack Obama announced that over the next year he wanted to accept at least 10,000 refugees from Syria, according to White House officials.
Similar to other nations, Syria has “good people and bad people” and the U.S. “has to do what it takes” to ensure that refugees entering the U.S. are “good people,” said Ahmad Beetar, a Syrian immigrant. “Generalizing and saying all Syrians are bad is not good.”
Originally from war-torn Aleppo in Syria, Beetar, 33, worked as a journalist. Before coming to the U.S. he refused positions from both the Syrian government and work as a “press release writer” for an al-Qaeda affiliate.
Beetar said that people who refuse to align with political groups in Syria have “no future.” The U.S. can help those who refuse political affiliation and other vulnerable populations, such as children, the elderly, people with disabilities and women who could potentially become female captives.
Beetar came to Maryland in 2013 through a fellowship with the U.S. Department of State. Beetar said he was allowed to stay in America because it was too unsafe for him to return to Syria. This July, he moved to Washington, D.C.
Beetar said he understands the quick response of American officials to the recent terrorist attacks in Paris as “people tend to have some strong reaction against that.” Their response is acceptable if it only last for a few weeks, but they should review the situation and “not base decisions just on emotions,” he said.
“Not all Syrians are terrorists or can be affected by the jihadist ideology,” said Beetar. “When I was in Syria I had no future. The U.S. gave me a chance to remain a human being without having to kill or be killed.”
Since 1990, about 2 million refugees have entered the U.S., with approximately 400,000 from the Middle East. In that time, no acts of terrorism in America have involved refugees, according to John Stevenson, a senior researcher for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism program at the University of Maryland, College Park.
The federal government is responsible for vetting refugees, Stevenson said. State governors, in turn, are responsible for resettlement.
“Refugees do not radicalize as long as they have stable settlement rights,” Stevenson said. “For the governors to make it more difficult for them to resettle it’s creating the very conditions that could lead to radicalization.”
Refugees accepted to the U.S. will undergo “rigorous screening and security checks,” Obama said Monday, during a news conference from the G20 Summit in Antalya, Turkey.
“We also have to remember that many of these refugees are the victims of terrorism themselves — that’s what they’re fleeing,” Obama said. “Slamming the door in their faces would be a betrayal of our values.”
(CNS Correspondent Idrees Ali contributed to this report.)