A crowd of Phoenicians chanting "We reject racism!" descended on Governor Doug Ducey's office today after he pledged to resist President Barack Obama's plans to resettle thousands of refugees in Arizona over the next year.
"We cannot sit idly in our offices safe and sound while xenophobia and racism are publicly flaunted," said Reverend Reginald D. Walton, senior pastor of Phillips Memorial CME Church, who led the protest alongside Francisca Porchas, organizing director for Puente Arizona. "Ducey should be ashamed of himself."
Ducey, one of more than 25 governors across the country to call for a halt to refugee resettlement, framed his efforts as a move to "protect Arizona's homeland" in the wake of a series of horrific terrorist attacks that killed more than 130 people in Paris Friday. Several of the assailants, militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terrorist group, have been identified as French citizens. But, according to French prosecutors, one bomber who targeted the national stadium was found with a Syrian passport of questionable authenticity.
While most governors focused on limiting immigration of Syrians, Ducey took it a step further. He made it clear no refugees are welcome in Arizona.
"These acts serve as a reminder that the world remains at war with radical Islamic terrorists," Ducey said in a statement Monday. "Our national leaders must react with the urgency and leadership that every American expects to protect our citizens."
Ducey, who was scheduled to speak with federal officials on a conference call about the issue today, got some support for his stance on social media.
"Please keep standing firm on the rights of Arizonans!" Phoenix's Tina Dickinson wrote on the governor's official Facebook page. "We have people right here who need our help. They come first!"
Thank you Governor Ducey for saying NO to Syrian refugees in Arizona!!— Gracie M (@GracieDoll99) November 16, 2015
The protesters, however, accused Ducey of "warmongering."
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"These refugees are fleeing ISIS," said Johnny Martin, president of Sun Devils are Better Together, an interfaith club at Arizona State University. "To deny them a safe place to go — especially as Americans who have so much privilege — is frankly disgusting." Several people unfurled a banner on the State Capitol's lawn that said in bright, bubbly letters: "Welcome Refugees!" Others held signs emblazoned with the quote inscribed on the Statue of Liberty: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free."
A group of employees from the International Rescue Committee, a nonprofit that coordinates with the federal government to find refugees homes in Arizona, joined the rally in solidarity, but they declined to comment on the record. In an official written statement, IRC stated that refugees are the "most security vetted population who come to the United States."
Refugees are first reviewed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in their country of origin. Then, those who pass, are interviewed face-to-face, fingerprinted, and undergo background checks from several agencies, including the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security, and the FBI. If anything looks fishy, refugees are then screened by the National Counterterrorism Center.
"Banning Syrian refugees will not make America safer; it will make refugees more desperate," IRC wrote. "At a time when so many Syrian families are dependent on outside help for their survival, we call on all those in and aspiring to elected office to live up to the highest ideals that have made this country great. The United States cannot provide a home for everyone. But it can, and has shown throughout its history, people from across the world how to live together."