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Q&A: A look at the refugee crisis dividing some Americans

Posted June 9

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— A clash in past months over whether to welcome a small number of refugees to western Montana erupted into a larger feud over Islam, big government and the idea that Americans should "take care of our own" before worrying about newcomers. Demonstrators supporting and opposing refugeesgathered by the hundreds at rallies. Tempers flared as the two sides squabbled over the threat of Islamic terrorism and the need to help desperate people fleeing violence.

Here's a look at issues surrounding what a local pastor called "one incarnation of the larger divide in the country."


The fate of hundreds of thousands of Syrians fleeing the chaos and bloodshed of their nation's five-year-old civil war mushroomed into an international humanitarian crisis last fall when they began flooding into Europe and the Middle East. The scope of the tragedy was captured in one image that focused new attention on the urgent need for countries to address the crisis: A photo of a 3-year-old refugee who had drowned and washed ashore in Turkey.

President Barack Obama pledged to increase to 10,000 the number of Syrian refugees welcomed in the U.S. by the end of September, but the pace of entries has been exceedingly slow. That plan was met with resistance by most Republican governors and the GOP presidential candidates, who argued the government didn't have an adequate screening system to prevent terrorists from slipping into the U.S.


Reaction has been split almost entirely along party lines. Following the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California, GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump called for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the U.S. He has also spoken against accepting Syrian refugees.

More than half the nation's governors — all but one Republicans — also called for a halt to, or expressed reservations about, resettling Syrian refugees in the U.S., saying concerns needed to be resolved first. States included: Alabama, Indiana, Texas and Wisconsin. The lone Democrat was from New Hampshire.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said: "There may be those who will try to take advantage of the generosity of our country and the ability to move freely within our borders through this federal resettlement program, and we must ensure we are doing all we can to safeguard the security of Americans."

One supporter, Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy of Connecticut, recently expressed this counterview: "When people will rise up to defame a religious group or a gender group or women, then Americans of good principle and strong heart need to say, 'Not in my land, not in any land.'"


From Oct. 1, 2015, to May 31, 2016, 2,805 Syrian refugees had arrived in the U.S., according to State Department data .

More than two-thirds were resettled in 10 states: Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas. In the same period, the U.S. has accepted almost twice the number of refugees from Iraq and almost three times as many from Myanmar.

Refugee arrivals in the U.S.
Oct. 1, 2015 through May 31, 2016

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From May 1, 2011, (shortly after the civil war began) to May 31, 2016, 4,674 Syrian refugees resettled in the U.S. The following is a breakdown by state:

Arizona: 368, Arkansas: 1, California: 496, Colorado: 36, Connecticut: 118, Florida: 267, Georgia: 178, Idaho: 37, Illinois: 291, Indiana: 82, Kansas: 13, Kentucky: 154, Louisiana: 28, Maine: 5, Maryland: 71, Massachusetts: 105, Michigan: 505, Minnesota: 15, Missouri 74, Nebraska: 13: Nevada: 28, New Hampshire: 8, New Jersey: 158, New Mexico: 10, New York: 165, North Carolina: 190, Ohio: 179, Oklahoma: 3, Oregon: 33, Pennsylvania: 364, Rhode Island: 34, South Carolina: 2, Tennessee: 62, Texas: 359, Utah: 43, Virginia: 44, Washington: 116, West Virginia: 1, Wisconsin: 18.

These states had none: Alabama, Alaska, Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming. Also, the District of Columbia.

From May 1, 2011 to May 31, 2016, more than 336,000 refugees have come to America, according to the State Department. Those from Myanmar, Iraq, Bhutan, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo account for more than three-fourths of the total.


America has a long history of wariness of refugees. Last November, after the Paris terrorist attacks, a Gallup poll found that Americans, by 60 to 37 percent, opposed taking in refugees fleeing Syria. In 1978, there was a 57 to 32 percent opposition to accepting Indochinese boat people, and in 1946, after World War II, the public was against welcoming displaced people from Europe, including Jews, by 72 to 16 percent.

Generally, Americans tend to favor refugees with whom they share some connection — political, religious or personal — and the public has little interaction with Muslims, says David Haines, a professor emeritus at George Mason University who has written extensively about refugees.


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