By Aryn Braun
Refugee-resettlement agencies condemned Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner’s decision to temporarily ban Syrian refugees from settling in Chicago and vigorously defended the current U.S. vetting processes, in a press conference in Uptown on Nov. 18.
— Syrian emigree Suzanne Akhras.
Though immigration, and therefore refugee resettlement, is a federal issue, many are up in arms defending Chicago as a welcoming and inclusive city, and one that will fight back against Rauner’s decision to stand with his Republican counterparts.
RefugeeOne, the leading refugee-resettlement organization in Chicago, stressed the slow and methodical procedure by which refugees are chosen and then screened for admittance to the United States.
“They will go through medical exams before coming here, and then through an allocation process it will be decided which state they are going to be resettled,” said Melineh Kano, Executive Director of RefugeeOne.
“The shortest that this process takes is about three years. On average, refugees wait seventeen years to be resettled in the U.S.,” Kano added.
Security concerns permeated throughout the detailed discussion of the vetting process, but didn’t derail Kano and others from speaking out against Rauner’s policy.
“We’d love to invite the Governor to meet with us and meet with refugee families,” said Suzanne Akhras, President and Executive Director of the Syrian Community Network in Chicago. “I think he would change his mind. I think they will touch his heart and he will take back his statement.”
Akhras emigrated from Syria in the 1980s, and though she’s now an established Chicagoan, she took Rauner’s statement as a personal affront.
“This to me is personal, and on top of it, I’m Syrian-American,” said Akhras. “You’re telling us that Syrian refugees are escaping war and terror…and now we’re going to not welcome them…and then we’re going to blame them? That’s very unfair.”
According to Kano there are already 16 Syrian families settled in the Chicago area, with another refugee set to arrive in December, despite Rauner’s resistance.
Other groups are opposing Rauner’s temporary ban in different ways.
Organized Communities Against Deportations, and the Arab American Action Network co-sponsored a petition to reverse Rauner’s policy that garnered thousands of signatures.
“This is Gov. Rauner and other governors across the U.S. utilizing this moment to really spread xenophobia, to spread fear amongst our community so that we will be unaccepting of people who are simply looking for safety in this state and in this city,” said Irene Romulo, an organizer with the anti-deportation group.
The petition, circulating around Twitter under the #Not1More hashtag, began with a goal of 500 signatures.
By Wednesday night, it had just over 6,000 signees.