ITHACA, NY – On Tuesday, Mayor Svante Myrick wrote a Facebook post indicating that he would do “everything in his power” to welcome Syrian refugees to Ithaca, a sentiment that was met with mixed feedback.

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Critical commenters voiced a number of concerns. Some were worried about safety – that some refugees allowed through the program could be terrorists. Others argued that with Ithaca’s housing crisis and homelessness, inviting more bodies that would need roofs over their heads was folly.

Early in the afternoon, Myrick had a phone call with the White House that explained much of the minutiae of the United States’ refugee program.

Would there be a real local impact?

Myrick shared some numbers about the Syrian refugee crisis. Since the war began in 2011, six million Syrians have been displaced. The United States has taken in 2,000, with plans in the works to take an additional 10,000.

Myrick explained, “Per capita that would mean Ithaca’s ‘fair share’ out of a country of 300 million would be one Syrian refugee.” Even if Ithaca were to take on more than it’s “fair share,” we wouldn’t likely see more than four or five Syrian refugees relocating here.

As for how Syrian refugees might find their place in Ithaca, Myrick explained that the agencies responsible for relocating the refugees match them with appropriate communities, and connect them with people to help them learn english, adjust, and adapt to life in the United States.

“Some people seem to believe that [refugees] become wards of the state. Ultimately, they become citizens, they find work, their kids go to school, they pay taxes, they vote,” Myrick said.

Myrick noted that refugee relocation is ultimately in the hands of federal and state agencies, and even against opposition, there is not much that could be done to prevent refugee relocation.

Safety Concerns

On the question of safety, Myrick explained that getting into the U.S. as a refugee was an “intensive process.” Potential refugees are vetted by the Department of Defense, the State Department and the FBI.

Thorough biographical checks are performed, including interviews of people the asylum-seeker knows or knew about where they grew up, where they lived, and why they left those places. This is in addition to measures such as finger-printing, crosschecking of photos and other high-tech methods.

Myrick noted that refugee relocation is ultimately in the hands of federal and state agencies, and even against opposition, there is not much that could be done to prevent refugee relocation.

Myrick said, “Entering the country as a refugee is the single hardest way to do it… Coming as a student, temporary worker or for vacation are easier ways to get here. Crossing the border without documentation is far easier than coming as a refugee.”

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Michael Smith

Michael Smith reports on politics and local news for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached via email at msmith@ithacavoice.com, by cell at (607) 229-0885, or via Google Voice at (518) 650-3639.