LOCKPORT—Niagara County lawmakers added their name to a growing chorus of government leaders calling on New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to block Syrian refugees from being resettled in New York Tuesday, just four days after an Islamic terrorist bombing in Paris left 129 people dead.
Niagara County’s opposition comes as the Obama administration seeks to resettle 10,000 refugees from the Syrian civil war in cities across the U.S. and an announcement by top officials in neighboring Erie County that at least 300 refugees are set to be placed there.
The governors of at least 30 states have, since the weekend, announced they would work to block refugee resettlement in their states, due primarily to concerns that terrorists associated with the Islamic State movement or other terrorist groups had made good on threats to infiltrate the Syrian refugee population. At least one of the terrorists involved in last Friday’s Paris attacks was carrying a Syrian passport and identified as a refugee that had entered continental Europe via Greece in October.
The unanimous vote by county lawmakers to demand Cuomo to work to block federal resettlement of refugees in New York puts Niagara County squarely in line with positions advanced by U.S. Rep. Chris Collins, R-Clarence, and Erie County Legislature Majority Leader Joseph Lorigo, R-West Seneca, since the Paris attacks.
“Ensuring the safety and security of our country and Western New Yorkers is my central focus,” Collins stated Monday. “At this point, we cannot guarantee with 100 percent certainty that the refugees we are accepting from Syria don’t pose a threat to our community. Until we have a process in place that achieves that goal, I am calling on Gov. Cuomo to stop plans to accept Syrian refugees.”
Niagara County Legislator John Syracuse, R-Newfane, echoed that sentiment Tuesday.
“We don’t know who these people are. Even the director of the FBI has stated in Congressional testimony that we have no workable database, no background information, on these refugees,” Syracuse said. “While many who want to help these refugees may have the very best of intentions, we can’t let public safety become a secondary consideration to political correctness.”
Syracuse was referencing Oct. 21 Congressional testimony by FBI Director James Comey, who stated flatly that the U.S. does not have the ability to conduct thorough background checks on the 10,000 refugees being admitted by the Obama administration.
“If someone has never made a ripple in the pond in Syria in a way that would get their identity or their interest reflected in our database, we can query our database until the cows come home, but there will be nothing show up because we have no record of them,” Comey told federal lawmakers.
County lawmakers noted that the Lackawanna Six terror cell had been composed of naturalized U.S. citizens that had operated in Western New York without detection—and some worried that unknown migrants without any ties to the local community present an even bigger potential security threat.
“The lack of verifiable information about these individuals’ backgrounds—about who they are, about who their associates are, about past radical or criminal activity—these are all reasons to suspend any resettlement at least for the foreseeable future,” Legislator Michael A. Hill, R-Middleport, said.
Niagara County’s call-out to Cuomo to block the resettlements, which, in addition to its unanimous passage, carried sponsorship from the Legislature’s entire Majority Caucus, also expressed concerns about the potential for additional strain on state-mandated, but county-funded, social welfare programs and Medicaid. Majority Leader Rick Updegrove, R-Lockport, noted that the lack of a residency requirement for Medicaid all but guaranteed New York’s rich Medicaid benefits would make the state a magnet for the resettled foreign nationals.
“There are too many unknowns with this program, too many hidden dangers, too many hidden costs,” Syracuse told colleagues. “We need to do what’s right to protect our community.”