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Fischer, Other Mayors Defend Refugee Resettlement

Despite the large number of governors — mostly Republicans — opposing the resettlement of Syrian refugees in their states following attacks in Paris, city leaders around the U.S. are voicing their support.

On Friday, the U.S. Conference of Mayors — including Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer — sent a letter to Congress registering support "for the U.S. refugee resettlement system and [recognizing] the importance of continuing to welcome refugees to our country and to our cities."

The letter says potential refugees are subjected to "the most rigorous screening and security vetting of any category of traveler to the United States."

Governor-elect Matt Bevin has said he opposes the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the state. However, legal scholars have said refugee resettlement is under the jurisdiction of the federal government.

Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives approved stricter security measures that could limit the resettlement of Syrians in the U.S. Every Kentucky House member except Rep. John Yarmuth, a Democrat from Louisville, voted for the measure.

In response, mayors from Louisville, Phoenix, Seattle, Kansas City, St. Louis, Charleston and Philadelphia, among other cities, sent a letter to Congress defending the current refugee resettlement program.

Fischer also announced over the weekend he would help lead a rally scheduled for Tuesday evening at Jefferson Square Park downtown. The rally is intended to show support for victims of attacks in Paris, Mali and Beirut.

This comes after a week in which Fischer said little on the matter.

Louisville is among a group of cities that continues to receive Syrian immigrants. About 200 are expected to settle in the state over the next year.

“We can be safe as a country and we can still be accommodating to refugees,” Fischer said on Friday, before the letter was made public. “Our screening program is very strong both biographically and bio-metrically. It’s obviously being looked at to see if it can be improved, which is good.”

Congressional Republicans, including Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, have been looking to make the screening process stricter for refugees coming into the U.S. from countries with a high terrorism risk.

Fischer reiterated that he believes there is a way to be both safe and welcoming.

“I believe that it is a basic American value,” he said. “We can be both safe and accommodating and compassionate.”

President Obama has maintained that the current refugee screening process is already thorough. It typically takes 18 to 24 months to be screened for entry into the U.S. as a refugee.

In practice, resettlement issues are decided by federal officials but mostly carried out by local agencies, which help families find a place to live. Louisville-area groups that work with refugees are continuing to plan to take care of more displaced people.

Bart Weigel, director of operations for Catholic Charities of Louisville, said last week that the group will continue“to expect these refugees and find them a safe place to resettle and help them get on with their lives.”

In fiscal year 2015, 63 Syrians were resettled in Kentucky, according to Weigel. He said about half were children under the age of 17. In the 2016 fiscal year starting Oct. 1, 26 Syrians have settled in Kentucky so far.

According to CityLab, more city mayors are speaking up and offering their cities for resettlement for Syrians. Last week, 18 mayors from U.S. cities wrote a letter to Obama that said they “will welcome the Syrian families to make homes and new lives in our cities.” Fischer was not part of that letter.


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