As disagreement over how the U.S. should handle incoming Syrian refugees continues to play out, Massachusetts U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton took part in a roundtable discussion Tuesday to get a better understanding of the community of refugees that lives here in the state.
Rep. Moulton says despite the rhetoric and polling that shows concern among Massachusetts residents, there is a proud tradition in this state to be welcoming to refugees.
As for fears ISIS fighters might slip into the country, Moulton expressed confidence in the State Department's vetting system for refugees.
"Refugees go through the strictest screening process of any traveler to the U.S.," Moulton told reporters following his meeting with refugees, which was closed to the press. "It takes 18 to 24 months on average, often more than two years for a refugee to go through the process to come here.
"So when you think about the threats that we face from ISIS and other terrorist organizations around the globe," he added, "it just doesn't make a lot of sense that they would choose literally the most difficult way to get to the U.S., the most scrutinized avenue to send terrorists overseas."
Moulton acknowledged that ISIS is a national security threat and says there needs to be a serious long-term strategy to defeat the group.
"But ISIS is also a sophisticated enemy, and we've got to be smart about that strategy," Moulton said. "We've got to make sure we address where the threat really is. And the threat is not primarily from refugees. We have to have a tight screening process and that process needs to be continued."
Refugee support organizations, along with representatives from Gov. Charlie Baker's office, federal immigration officials and others met with Moulton for about an hour Tuesday.
Hiam Francis, of the group Justice for Detainees in Syria, says Syrians would rather not leave their homes.
"Syria is so beautiful a country," Francis said after the meeting. "We don't want to leave our country. We wanted freedom, but this is the situation now. We have 9 million refugees. They need help, they need support. And I hope we can welcome them here in this country — provide houses for them, essential needs, language, learning and just essential needs."
As for his publicized differences with Baker over whether Massachusetts should accept Syrian refugees, Moulton says he and the governor had a good phone conversation and that it's important that political leaders do their homework.
"I offered to work with the governor to connect him with anyone at the federal level who he would like to speak with, to increase his degree of confidence in the system, to make sure that he understands that we can be safe," Moulton said.
Moulton went on to praise former President George W. Bush for his statements following the 9/11 attacks, that Muslims should not be persecuted here at home.
Moulton says that type of leadership is needed today on both sides of the aisle.
This segment aired on November 24, 2015.
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- Gov. Baker: No More Syrian Refugees In Mass. ‘Until I Know More’