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State leaders address concerns over Syrian refugees, safety following Paris attacks

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — As the governors of several states, including Massachusetts, announced they will refuse to host Syrian refugees in their state, at least two Rhode Island lawmakers are urging Gov. Gina Raimondo to do the same.

Following Friday’s terrorist attacks in Paris, in which more than 120 people were killed, Rep. Bobby Nardolillo (R-Coventry) wrote Raimondo a letter, urging her to reconsider.

The Governor of Michigan has made the decision to reverse his offer to host Syrian refugees. He was not swayed by political correctness or the conflicted concerns for those who genuinely seek asylum. He did what he could do that was within his own control to protect the residents of his state. I call on you to do the same for all residents of Rhode Island.”

Eyewitness News spoke to Raimondo about Nardolillo’s letter during an event Monday. She said she’ll take her cues from the President, and added that the White House has not requested that Rhode Island take in refugees.

“It all depends on the details,” Raimondo told Eyewitness News. “We can’t let ourselves get caught up in the politics or any hysteria. We’ll look at it when it comes…and I’m not going to weigh in on hypothetical decisions because it’s just too important.”

In September, Raimondo said Rhode Island was open to sheltering refugees in the state if the White House asked. Later that month, Central Falls Mayor James Diossa pledged to house two or three Syrian families.

Refugees have been fleeing Syria and flooding into Europe in order to escape the civil war between rebel factions, including ISIS, and the authoritarian government of President Bashar Assad.

The refugee question intensified after the Paris attacks. Authorities said a Syrian passport was found near one of the attackers, and the Paris prosecutors’ office says fingerprints from the attacker match those of someone who passed through Greece in October.

Rep. Doreen Costa also urged Raimondo not to accept refugees.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island condemned the call to deny Syrians refuge in the state.

“Rather than ceding to this parochialism, Governor Raimondo should instead be reaffirming the position she espoused just two months ago in response to this humanitarian crisis, when she stated that “if Rhode Island is called upon … we’ll be ready to help,” the organization said in a statement Monday. “The attacks in France were horrific, but to essentially blame these heinous acts on all the innocent residents of Syria who are themselves fleeing from violence does an injustice to what our country and our state stand for. We urge Governor Raimondo not to lend credence to this message of intolerance, and to instead affirm the need to welcome Syrian refugees who are fleeing the brutality of ISIS.”

Gov. Raimondo said the safety of Rhode Islanders was he top priority. She said Rhode Island State Police are on heightened alert, particularly at public events, but there are no specific threats to Rhode Island.

Congressional delegation weighs in on refugees, safety

Eyewitness News spoke with all four members of Rhode Island’s congressional delegation Monday. All said there are no credible threats to the U.S. while adding that we must always be vigilant.

“I think America is a frontline target for the Islamic extremists and the Jihadis,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse said.

“We live in a world where we have to be constantly aware of these kinds of threats,” Rep. David Cicilline added.

That vigilance includes making sure terrorists don’t enter America under the guise of a refugee escaping Syria.

“At the same time, we’re balancing that against the humanitarian crisis that is occurring in Syria,” Rep. Jim Langevin said.

Eyewitness News asked the lawmakers how the refugees are vetted.

According to Sen. Jack Reed, officials will ask them where they have worked and why they want to be in America.

“There’s typically an interview with a state department person who asks pointed questions about their background,” he said.

In a an interview over the weekend, Massachusetts Rep. Bill Keating told Eyewitness News about the vast differences between the vetting process for refugees in the Unites States and the vetting process in Europe. He called Europe “wide-open,” based on recent travels there to help combat terrorism.

The congressmen all agreed that residents of Southern New England should feel safe, and should not let the threat of terror interrupt their daily lives.

Annie Shalvey contributed to this report. 

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