Gov. Jay Inslee keeps his word on accepting Syrian refugees

Nov 30, 2016, 9:00 AM | Updated: 10:05 am

On November 20, 2015 – days after 129 people were killed in a Paris terrorist attack — Washington Gov. Jay Inslee wrote an editorial for the New York Times titled “Why My State Won’t Close Its Doors to Syrian Refugees.” In it, Inslee explained why, unlike a then-growing number of “governors, representatives, senators and presidential candidates” who were calling for America to shut its borders to refugees fleeing the horrors at the hands of the Islamic State, Washington state would be keeping its arms open.

Looking at the numbers a year later, it appears as though he has stuck to his word. And then some.

Of the record 3,907 refugees resettled in Washington during federal fiscal year 2016 (Oct. 1, 2015 to Sept. 30, 2016), 165 were identified as Syrian refugees, according to the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS). While just 4 percent of the overall refugee population, it is up substantially from the 25 Syrian refugees the previous fiscal year — and even larger compared to the past decade-plus. From 2005 to 2014, a total of seven Syrian refugees arrived in Washington state. That is fewer than arrived in October of 2016 (nine) by itself.

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During this fiscal year, the Obama administration screened and admitted nearly 12,600 Syrian refugees (surpassing the stated goal of 10,000), who were resettled in cities and towns across the U.S, according to the Associated Press. Thousands more are scheduled to arrive in 2017.

Presidents set the quotas for refugees allowed into the country, and President-elect Donald Trump could reduce the number the U.S. will accept.

During the presidential campaign, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton pledged to increase the number of intakes from the war-torn country, while Trump proposed a variety of actions, including a ban on Muslims entering the country, a moratorium on accepting anymore and “extreme vetting” of any potential immigrants hailing from countries infested with extremism. While Trump’s ultimate tactics are unknown, the Republican announced that when he takes office on Jan. 20, he will take action to “restore security and the constitutional rule of law,” which includes cutting funding to Sanctuary Cities. However, Mayor Ed Murray has said Seattle, which passed an ordinance in 2003 denoting it as a Sanctuary City, will keep accepting refugees. Inslee said in an email from the Governor’s Office Tuesday that he will also not be backing down.

“Washington will continue to be a place where all people are welcomed and accepted – regardless of race, what language you speak or where you come from, who you love, or what religion you practice,” Inslee said. “To date, the majority of Syrian refugees coming into our state are families with children who are seeking safety and security. The U.S. State Department is continually monitoring the process to ensure we have the strongest possible safeguards in place to provide refuge to those who need it while keeping out those who would seek to harm us.”

Refugees by the numbers

While Syrians receive a great deal of attention for the estimated 11 million who have fled Civil War-torn country since 2011, they are not alone in their quest for an escape.

Washington state consistently lands among the top ten refugee-receiving states in the country, according to the DSHS, with the immigrants represent more than 30 different countries of origin. The 3,907 refugees in fiscal year 2016 is a 33 percent jump from 2015. Of the total number of refugee arrivals, the top five countries of origin included Ukraine (20 percent), Iraq (16 percent), Afghanistan (13 percent), Somalia (11 percent), and Burma and Iran (6 percent each).

Sarah Petersen, with the DSHS Office of Refugee & Immigrant Assistance, said refugees come into the U.S. through the federal Refugee Admissions Program administered by the Department of State. This program is done in partnership with several federal agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security. Refugees are allocated to one of nine national refugee resettlement agencies that spread them with a network of over 300 local affiliates.

The DSHS Office of Refugee & Immigrant Assistance designs programs for employment services, English language programs, comprehensive case management, health and mental health services, services focused on school aged children and older adults, and assistance in helping refugees become naturalized citizens.

Peterson said refugee resettlement is different for every group of individuals. There are differing levels of education and proficiency in English; some come from rural or agronomy-based communities, and others come from sophisticated societies with broad affluence. Peterson noted that many refugees from Iraq or Afghanistan, for instance, worked with U.S. armed forces, speak English, and have advanced level of degrees from their home countries.

“From our experience, Syrian and all refugees are embraced by welcoming communities in Washington state,” Peterson said. “These communities offer critical services, supports, and even a connection to American friend volunteers that help refugee families in the process of rebuilding their lives in the U.S.  In my experience of working with refugees for more than 15 years, refugees are fleeing persecution and violence in their home countries in hopes of finding a better life for their children. They are wanting to become U.S. citizens and live a peaceful life in their new country.”

FBI Director James Comey has warned the House Homeland Security Committee about challenges related to adequately screening Syrian refugees since they don’t have a paper trail.

When asked what his concerns and hopes are next year, Gov. Jay Inslee responded: “As long as I am governor, Washington will remain a state that embraces diversity and welcomes those in search of refuge. For those who fear an uncertain future, and I’ve heard from many, Washington stands with you, and for you.”

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Gov. Jay Inslee keeps his word on accepting Syrian refugees