Students Speak: Should Maryland Admit Syrian Refugees?

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This post is part of a student series written by BMS Senior Madi Johnson. Feel free to contact her at [email protected] if you’re interested in commenting on a future topic.

Since the outbreak of the Syrian Civil War in 2011, over eleven million people have left Syria to seek asylum, according to the United Nations High Commission on Refugees. The majority of refugees have gone to neighboring countries, such as Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, while an estimated 150,000 have fled to the European Union. A smaller group of about 2,200 have been admitted to the United States.

Syrian refugees strike in front of Budapest's Keleti railway station on September 3.
Syrian refugees strike in front of Budapest’s Keleti     railway station on September 3.

Syrians hoping to seek asylum in the United States must undergo a rigorous screening process that takes 18 to 24 months to complete. According to Brian Hansfeld, a UNHCR spokesman, the UNHCR selects the most vulnerable individuals — such as single mothers, torture victims, abandoned children, and those with special medical needs — to recommended for resettlement. They must undergo security screenings from multiple agencies and in-person interviews with Homeland Security. Specialists working for the Department of Defense and the FBI review biographical claims and check fingerprints, passports, family registries and military records.

As the situation in Syria has escalated, there has been much discussion about the United States’s role in taking in refugees. Those in favor of accepting more refugees argue that America has a humanitarian responsibility to do so. President Obama has vowed to take in 10,000 more over the next year, and as of mid-November, six states — Vermont, Connecticut, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Colorado, and Washington — stand with him. Over thirty governors, however, refuse to accept refugees. Most announcements either for or against the president’s plan of action came after reports that one of the suicide bombers in the recent Paris terrorist attacks, Ahmad Almohammad, entered Europe via Greece in early October using fake identification, claiming to be Ahmad al-Muhammad, a Syrian refugee.

Locally, on November 17, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan asked President Obama to stop resettlement, saying in an official statement: “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.” The stance has been met with varying degrees of support. Republican lawmakers have lauded the governor’s decision, citing concerns over whether Maryland has the resources to effectively process such an influx, especially given the fact that ISIS has vowed to smuggle in members disguised as refugees. Whereas, many of those leaning left stand in opposition to Hogan’s decision. Two Democratic Maryland senators asked for additional funding last month so that the State Department could screen more refugees, asserting that Maryland has an obligation to help those fleeing such horrific violence.

The clashing arguments beg the question: Did Gov. Hogan make the right choice in halting the resettlement of Syrian refugees in Maryland?

We asked local high school students to weigh in. Here’s what they had to say:

BRYAN APPLEFELD, Gilman School
“In this particular situation, while overwhelmingly most of the refugees are good-natured people fleeing the desolation their homeland has become, there is a threat among them by infiltrators. We can look at the attacks on Paris a few weeks ago. This was an operation led by the Islamic State due to what they say are members who were smuggled into Europe via the mass immigration. While it is terrible that the many may suffer due to the acts of few, this is a reoccurring theme throughout history, and one that Maryland has a right to take into consideration especially because of its proximity to D.C. The Islamic State has also stated that [it is] sending members through immigration, and will attack the United States through them. Taking these threats with seriousness does not put us in their palms, it allows us to take precautions and be as prepared as we can in case of. If the Islamic State says that they are sending men through immigration, we must take this with full consideration for our own true security. I feel for these people, who just want to make a better life somewhere new but are plagued by the misfortunate acts of radicals. Where they go besides the mainland United States is the one question anyone should be considering.”

PRISCILLA BARTON, Episcopal Academy
“I found Larry Hogan’s recent Facebook status [in which he asked] the federal government to stop sending refugees to Maryland very confusing for a number of reasons. Firstly, there [are] both laws and Supreme Court decisions that explicitly state that gubernatorial authority is subordinate to that of the federal government with regard to refugee settlement. Considering this legislation, I find myself asking why Governor Larry Hogan decided to make the controversial request for the federal government to stop settling refugees in the state of Maryland via Facebook. I find it difficult to understand how the leader of our state, [a state] which has historically valued diversity, can desire to stymie a group of people from living in Maryland because of their national identities. Refugees to the U.S. undergo extensive background checks and screenings, and while no system is perfect, the fact that the vast majority of attacks in the U.S. are executed by homegrown threats as opposed to extremists posing as helpless refugees, speaks to the fact that refugees have proven to be far less threatening to the U.S than American terrorists.”

KIMAYA BASU, Bryn Mawr School
Maryland should accept Syrian refugees after extensive background checks on every member of the family.  I understand Governor Hogan’s hesitation considering recent events in Paris and his responsibility to protect Maryland’s six million residents. However, we cannot simply turn our backs [on] people fleeing terror.  We cannot simply ignore the economic benefits that are likely to be delivered by hard-working immigrants, including in the form of more businesses and employment opportunities.  We also cannot ignore the facts. America is already home to many refugees, including from Syria. To date, the overwhelming majority have been models of behavior and have added to America’s rich tapestry. Baltimore, with its vacant homes and need for business formation, stands to benefit disproportionately from a more enlightened approach.”

RACHEL BOGIN, Bryn Mawr School
“As the daughter of immigrants, I recognize the unparalleled levels of safety, security, and freedom that the United States ha[s] to offer. Because of this, I am an advocate for allowing immigrants to seek asylum in America from the horrors they face in their home nations, which are evident particularly in Syria. If Governor Hogan refuses to allow refugees into Maryland, he is denying them a fundamental right that my parents were lucky enough to acquire for themselves and their children. Everyone deserves the opportunity to do so, and I take personal offense if any politician disagrees.”

TARIK INMAN, Carver School for Arts and Technology
I’m not exactly sure how [Governor Hogan’s] decision could be reversed…but I hope it is and soon, seeing as the waiting time for immigrating to the U.S. from Syria is already two years. The longer people are forced to wait in Syria, the more innocent people will die—either at the hands of ISIL, or in dangerous immigration conditions, such as having to cross the Mediterranean to Europe in unsafe boats. The U.S. government is somewhat indirectly responsible for the conflict, so I don’t think it’s outrageous to expect the U.S. to match the number of immigrants taken in.”

 



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4 COMMENTS

  1. Interewsting that no kids from Baltimore City Schools was asked this question. Why is that? Cause they already live in a war zone in their own country! ASk yourself – do we do enough for them?

    • We welcome comments from all Baltimore high school students, and we are always looking for more. If you have the contact information of a student who you think would be wiling to offer an opinion, please send contact information to [email protected] and we will reach out. Thanks.

  2. I’m really impressed with the responses from the students. They are well thought out. I agree with the majority that Gov. Hogan should allow immigrants in Maryland. I was disappointed by his letter and his attitude when many city leaders requested the opportunity to speak with him. He said he would speak with them, but wouldn’t change his mind. True arrogance.

  3. Also wanted to point out that this question was posed to a couple of Baltimore City Public Schools, and to date, there has been no response. I’ve asked for H.S. students at the Baltimore Design School to weigh in on a couple of these student led op/ed posts and haven’t heard back from anyone. Debbie, if you have a contact, or suggestions, please let me know. I’ve personally contacted teachers…and…nothing. [email protected].

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