Despite opposition from Republicans, Milwaukee lawmaker still pushing idea.
Meanwhile, Assembly Bill 506, introduced by Rep. Daniel Riemer (D-Milwaukee), appears at a standstill after the terrorist attacks in Paris last week. The bill requires the Department of Children and Families (DCF) to apply for federal grant funding to support the resettlement of Syrian refugees in this state and, if received, to contract with refugee service organizations to provide services to those refugees.
Riemer initially had support across the aisle from Rep. Tom Larson (R-Colfax), but Larson retracted after the brutal attacks occurred in Paris. Larson cited a concern about the inability to adequately vet refugees before allowing them into the country and Wisconsin.
Riemer understands the trepidation of his colleagues and more so the fears and concerns of the American public, but believes people fleeing violence, terror and religious persecution deserve a place of refuge. “Basic principals affirm that,” he says. “That’s why I introduced the bill.”
Republican Sen. John McCain has called this exodus from Syria the greatest humanitarian crisis since WWII, with the vast majority of those fleeing Syria making it to Turkey, Lebanon and other neighboring states.
Just two days ago McCain said it may take American “boots on the ground” to repair the region and fix the “failed leadership” from President Obama. “It’s a matter of time until one of these refugees will commit terror on American soil, I’m sorry to say that,” McCain said.
In his press release saying he opposed bringing Syrian refugees into this state, Walker said that “In consultation with our Adjutant General, who also serves as my Homeland Security Advisor, it is clear that the influx of Syrian refugees poses a threat.”
But Riemer says he never wants to use a tragedy either for or against any legislation. As a student in London, Riemer narrowly escaped being a victim himself in a subway bombing and he knows first-hand the pain and confusion involved in terrorism, he says.
“I think for some the Paris murders have changed the lens through which people see the Syrian refugees,” Riemer says. “I think Governor Walker and other Republican legislators have walked down that path and I think that’s the wrong path. I think they’re conflating the victims of terror with the perpetrators of terror,” he says.
Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has said no refugees should be allowed in Wisconsin until steps are taken to ensure no terrorists slip through. A proper vetting process for a refugee can take up to three years.
“The current process is stringent and takes a long time,” Riemer says. “If there’s a way to make the process more secure and safer, that’s okay with me. This is not about doing anything to make the process less rigorous.”
Of all refugees accepted into Wisconsin in recent years, Riemer says the vast majority settled in the city of Milwaukee.
“I’ll put my money where my mouth is,” Riemer says. “I live half a block from refugees from Burma. They can all come to my district. If it was necessary to put a family up in my modest home for a few months I would.”
Riemer says federal funds are designed to help a refugee get started with an apartment, food and toiletries, enough for a few weeks. After that it falls upon local volunteer organizations to help the refugees.
“We have a moral imperative here,” Riemer says. “As the strongest nation on earth we cannot let fear get in the way of courage or in the way of helping people find safety from persecution and terror.”
If not for the attacks in Paris, Riemer’s bill might have had a chance. But now?
“I’m going to try to win this debate in the court of public opinion,” he says. “I don’t believe the Republicans will change their mind, at least not publicly. I think Governor Walker is pretty dug into his position. I don’t think I’m going to get the bill passed, but I’ll at least appeal to the courage in people in response to the terror and fear they’re facing. I sympathize with Americans whose initial reactions is to be afraid. But the fundamental idea in America is the opportunity for a second chance.”