After earlier appearing to dodge questions about allowing Syrian refugees into New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio on Tuesday reiterated in an emailed statement that New York will not turn away refugees escaping conflict.
“We should not close our borders to any group of people fleeing the atrocities and horrors of terrorism. To do so is to hand terrorists a victory over our democracy, strengthened over the years by Americans who died or risked their lives for it,” de Blasio said in a statement emailed by his spokeswoman Karen Hinton.
“We are a strong country. We can protect our country with the appropriate and intensive screening and accept refugees seeking our protection at the same time. New York City is a proud immigrant city, and we will not turn our back on that history or the people being persecuted and fleeing war,” he said.
The statement was sent after de Blasio avoided questions about his previous support for harboring refugees on Monday. Earlier Tuesday, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito called in to WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show to criticize Republican governors who have called for closing U.S. borders to refugees in the wake of the Paris terror attacks, where there are reports that one of the suspects had a Syrian passport.
The mayor has been a fervent supporter of bringing refugees to the U.S.
De Blasio was one of eighteen mayors who signed a letter to President Obama on September 24 calling for the president to allow 10,000 refugees from the conflict in Syria to resettle in the U.S.
On November 9, several days before the attacks in Paris, de Blasio repeated his belief that New York City should play a role in helping refugees, saying at an unrelated press conference that while the first responsibility for the crisis lay with the European Union, “it’s obvious that the United States has to set an example. We have in many situations before, and New York City has to be a part of it.”
On Sunday, after the attacks, a spokeswoman for de Blasio declined to comment in response to a Metro reporter’s question about whether the mayor’s support for bringing Syrian refugees to New York City still held.
On Monday, de Blasio referred questions about whether he would support bringing Syrian refugees to New York City to his police commissioner Bill Bratton, who said the issue was more a problem for Europe, and stressed that refugees must be thoroughly vetted before coming to the U.S.
“Based on what just happened, those qualification levels will certainly be looked at very closely to ensure the safety of the American public,” Bratton said Monday.
Javier Valdes, the co-executive director of Make the Road New York, an immigration advocacy group, said he believed that de Blasio would follow through with a promise to help Syrian refugees, based on his past efforts to aid the city’s immigrant community.
“I think we have to use history as a marker, and based on what he’s done on the issues of immigration, even though what happened in Paris was tragic, I’m very confident the city will continue its plan to accept refugees from Syria,” Valdes told POLITICO New York.
De Blasio also took aim in the Tuesday statement at GOP presidential candidates Chris Christie and Donald Trump for their remarks in the wake of the terrorist attacks in France — Christie said Monday that the U.S. should not even allow Syrian refugees who are orphans under the age of 5 into the U.S., and Donald Trump said that if elected president, he would consider shutting down mosques.
De Blasio called Christie’s remarks “an embarrassment to this country” that would be dismissed if they hadn’t been made by an elected official.
And de Blasio characterized Trump’s idea to close mosques as unconstitutional.
“First and foremost, we always will abide by the U.S. Constitution which prohibits discrimination against religions. We will adhere to the words of our Founding Fathers, not Donald Trump,” de Blasio said in response to Trump’s remarks.
“Mosques don’t commit acts of terrorism. People do,” de Blasio said in the emailed statement.
He also struck back at Trump’s call for more police surveillance at New York City mosques.
“NYPD will investigate the crime, not close down places of worship. Finally, NYPD is recognized today as having the top anti-terrorism unit in the world. Our anti-terrorism efforts continue to evolve and improve as we’ve become more knowledgeable about activities across the globe,” de Blasio said.
The mayor also sought to distinguish between support for Muslim New Yorkers and ISIS.
Muslim New Yorkers “are a crucial ally in the fight against terrorism,” de Blasio said.
“The Muslim community is as deeply concerned about terrorism as other communities are. NYPD investigates the crime, not a group of people. That will not change,” he said.
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