Democrats question the need for and purpose of a legislative hearing on refugee screening and assistance. Republicans say they’re answering Missourians’ concerns.
A joint hearing of the Republican-led House and Senate’s budget committees asked state agencies what kind of assistance refugees get and how the state keeps tabs on federal assessments of refugees to check for radicals.
Senator Jamilah Nasheed (D-St. Louis) accused Republican counterparts of ignoring greater domestic threats while trying to score political points.
“I think that what we’re seeing right now is individuals pandering to their base on the backs of those individuals who are trying to flee oppression,” said Nasheed.
She said the hearing was not really about fighting terrorism.
“Friday we just had a terrorist attack in America, and nobody is having a conversation … the fear mongers amongst us are here.”
Senator Kurt Schaefer (R-Columbia) says Missourians want to know that refugees are thoroughly vetted to keep terrorists from entering Missouri among them.
“You screwed up a lot of other stuff, federal government. What are you doing on this one? Because you know what? You get one wrong and you’re going to end up with citizens who get killed. Maybe many,” said Schaefer. “No one should imply that somehow due diligence on what this process is and how dollars are being spent is somehow mean-spirited or xenophobia, or something we shouldn’t even talk about.”
Representative Genise Montecillo (D-St. Louis) thinks lawmakers who want to stop Syrian refugees from coming to Missouri, if only temporarily, are sending the wrong message to Missourians.
“Some among us almost seem to be validating the concern or heightening the concern when we should be showing calm and reassuring our constituents to make sure that yes, we are making sure that you’re safe but we’re also being compassionate people,” said Montecillo.
The committee learned 29 Syrian refugees have come to Missouri this year. Between 900 and 1,500 settle in the state annually. It was also told refugees go through several screenings often beginning before entering the U.S., and continued by the federal government. The process can take between 18 and 24 months.