Local Communities Affirm: Refugees Welcome

By Rachel Nusbaum, HIAS.org

Local Communities Affirm: Refugees Welcome

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson addresses the media during a press conference. October 15, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio.

(Michael Francis McElroy/Getty Images)

It was big news when dozens of governors recently declared that they were no longer interested in welcoming refugees fleeing the ongoing violence in Syria to their states. Families seeking to escape ISIS’ brutality, and an ongoing civil-war, had good reason to wonder whether their chance at permanent resettlement and a new life in a safe place, had shrunk from an already tiny 1% down closer to zero. But then something interesting happened.

While the ink was still drying on the governors’ press releases, mayors and city councils across the country began to very publicly counter the narrative that refugees were no longer welcome. Dozens of local communities refused to fall in line with their state’s chief executive.

In Ohio, despite Gov. John Kasich’s anti-refugee stance, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson issued a statement saying, "the City of Cleveland has always opened her arms to refugees, regardless of where they are from." The Cleveland City Council also weighed in, passing an emergency resolution “to expressly welcome not only Syrian refugees but also Iraqi, Congolese, Bhutanese, Burmese and Somali refugees and any other nationality processed by the Cleveland resettlement agencies and to reiterate that all refugees, regardless of faith or country of origin are welcome in the City of Cleveland.”

Nor is Ohio alone in this. Last month, the Chicago City Council passed a resolution condemning Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner's efforts to bar Syrian refugees from resettling in the state and “reaffirming Chicago as a welcoming city” according to ABC-7 television.

This isn’t the first time mayors have spoken publicly about their willingness to welcome refugees into their communities, either. In September, the mayors of New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and 15 other cities wrote a letter to President Obama urging him to admit even more refugees than the administration had proposed. “We will welcome the Syrian families to make homes and new lives in our cities," the 18 mayors wrote.

As CityLab has noted, this support at the city level continued to grow, even after the attacks in Paris that Governors had cited as a reason for states to close their doors. "Not allowing refugees makes America look weak,” Houston Mayor Annise Parker said. Welcoming those who flee terror is “the only humane thing to do,” according to Parker. Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings has also publicly expressed his support for continuing to welcome refugees fleeing violence and persecution abroad, despite Texas Gov. Greg Abbot’s stance.

Mayors in at least 17 states have indicated strong support for refugee resettlement, despite what their state’s governor may have said. CityLab lists Phoenix, Atlanta, Boise, Nashville, Madison, Fargo, Oklahoma City and Charlotte, North Carolina among the large cities where mayors have publicly affirmed support for continuing to welcome vulnerable refugee families who have been screened and approved by the U.S. government.

"The people fleeing Syria now are in some of the darkest days of their lives, running from the very terrorism we seek to fight," Javier Gonzales, mayor of Santa Fe, New Mexico wrote recently on Facebook. "Basic American values call on us not to bar the way or abandon them to their fate."

Search HIAS