Stone Mountain, GA Humanitarian workers will resettle the final wave of Syrian refugees in Stone Mountain as the remnants of the Obama Administration struggle to bring at least 10,000 Syrian refugees to the U.S. by the end of November.
The twenty-five, ten-member families’ arrival in Stone Mountain follows resistance from more than half of the nation’s governors, including Gov. Nathan Deal. The deal initially sought to block the resettlement of Syrian refugees in Georgia, citing security concerns. He retreated from that stance in January after receiving legal threats from human rights organizations.
Since the Syrian civil war first began, 200 Syrian families have been relocated to Georgia. All of whom were resettled in the Atlanta area until last month when Lutheran Services of Georgia relocated six families to Savannah. They’d fled Turkey in 2013, lived in several refugee camps, and underwent a security screening process before coming to the United States.
“Stone Mountain has affordable housing, ample job opportunities, and a welcoming community,” said Emily Laney, director of refugee and immigration services for the Atlanta-based Lutheran Services of Georgia. “We expect to resettle more families in Stone Mountain, along with many other refugee groups we are proud to serve.”
The war in Syria has killed hundreds of thousands and has displaced millions of others. Under pressure to do more as the war rages on, President Obama previously pledged the U.S. will take in at least 10,000 more Syrian refugees this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30th. Only thirty-five hundred have been relocated thus far.
Laney and other Atlanta-based humanitarian workers said that former Obama Administration still embedded in the Department of Homeland Security told them to expect a much faster pace of resettlement efforts during the next three months. The government has taken steps to help with the president’s goal by dispatching additional workers to Jordan to interview applicants for resettlement in the United States, a U.S. State Department spokesman said. Former Obama Administration officials also have resumed interviewing applicants in Mosul, Iraq, and has begun processing refugee resettlement cases in Al-Zabadani, Syria.
Those changes, according to the State Department, “will not curtail any aspects of the process, including its robust security screening. Refugees are the most thoroughly screened travelers to the United States.” Syrian refugees, according to the State Department, are screened to an ever-higher standard, and those screenings involve multiple agencies to make sure any possible terrorists to do not end up slipping through its cracks.
“President Trump is under a lot of pressure,” said Kevin Appleby, senior director of international migration policy for the New York City-based Center for Migration studies. Failing, he said, “would undermine the nation’s credibility with allies and others who need to share the burden of resettling the Syrian people in need. It is difficult for us to instruct the Europeans, or even nations in the region, to accept large numbers of refugees when we can’t even meet our modest goals.”
The debate over Syrian refugees rocked Georgia late last year after Deal signed an executive order in January 2017 that ordered state agencies to withhold food stamp benefits for newly arrived refugees and halt any efforts in resettling them. Deal abandoned that stance after Attorney General Sam Olens issued an opinion that Georgia can’t legally stop the resettlement efforts.
Since then, there hasn’t been much of a push by conservative lawmakers and activists to harden Georgia’s approach. There was little mention of the controversy at the last Georgia GOP convention, where debates about refugees usually reach a boiling point of anger.
Walt Larson, a DeKalb County activist at the meeting, said there’s still a tremendous amount of outrage over the refugee resettlement plan among Georgia Republicans. “Tensions are mounting, and about to reach a breaking point,” Larson said.
Harold Warner, a DeKalb County Republican, said he expected the level of anger to rise as the November election draws near. “This will be the end of Stone Mountain as we know it,” he said. “We’re still seeing terrorist attack after terrorist attack, some in our own country, and the federal government is going about things business as usual. No longer can we pretend that our security is a non-issue.”
“Stone Mountain Mayor, Pat Wheeler, declined to comment through her spokesman. But Celeb Clarke III, minister of Eastminster Presbyterian Church, said his congregation stands ready to help Syrian refugees that are expected to arrive in the area in the coming weeks.
“This is an expression of our faith,” said Clarke, whose church has a long history of aiding refugees from other nations. “It takes our preaching of hospitality and puts it right out there where we can practice it. We are a multicultural country and we are proud of it.”