ICIRR-CAIR Chicago Statement: Illinois Republicans Politicize the Needs of Syrian Refugees

December 3, 2015

For more information, contact:
Fred Tsao, ICIRR Senior Policy Counsel
312 332-7360 x213, ftsao@icirr.org

Ahmed Rehab, CAIR-Chicago Executive Director
202-870-0166, arehab@cair.com

Renner Larson, CAIR-Chicago Communications Coordinator
312-212-1520, rlarson@cair.com

Illinois Republicans Politicize the Needs of Syrian Refugees   

ICIRR and CAIR Chicago respond to the harmful anti-refugee rhetoric and actions of Senator Kirk and Gov. Rauner

This week Mark Kirk began broadcasting an anti-immigrant campaign ad critical of Syrian refugee resettlement in the US, and Governor Bruce Rauner reaffirmed his intention to halt acceptance of Syrian refugees in Illinois. The following is the joint statement of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)-Chicago. 

Illinois has always been a welcoming state for immigrants, who for nearly two centuries have farmed its land, built its cities, and created and attended its universities, churches, temples, and mosques. It is therefore disheartening that we find two leading Illinois elected officials have scorned the latest families seeking refuge and have instead fanned the flames of fear and prejudice.

Senator Mark Kirk’s recent campaign ad is a shameful attack that demonizes thousands of individuals who are seeking refuge beyond their own war-torn borders, while Governor Bruce Rauner’s most recent refusal to welcome Syrian refugees to Illinois violates this state’s honorable and historic commitment to immigrants and refugees.  These elected officials have a responsibility to represent the values of Illinoisans, and thus far, they have failed in their words and actions to represent this state’s foundational commitment to diversity and compassion. 

The vast majority of Syrian refugees are women, children, and elderly individuals who are fleeing their homes because of violence that has endangered the lives and futures of their families. Thousands of people with well-established careers and households have been forced to uproot their families and seek the compassion of foreign and unfamiliar nations.

The US is a welcoming nation that has historically valued both compassion and safety. The US accepts roughly 70,000 refugees every year, and the refugees who come from unstable regions like Syria, adhere to the most rigorous screening and security vetting of any category of people entering the US.

Refugees submit biometric data and detailed biographic histories. They are subjected to background checks, engage in a lengthy interview process, and are screened by four independent federal agencies with extensive national security databases. This process can take more than two years, and improvements are constantly being implemented to ensure that the public and refugees alike are protected from the same terrorist threat both groups are collectively combating.

The concern for proper refugee screening is critical to the safety of citizens and refugees alike, but the recent words and actions of Senator Kirk and Governor Rauner are both unfounded and reactionary. Historically, terrorism in the US has rarely stemmed from refugees or immigrants. The real threat to security has consistently come from the under-scrutinized domestic extremists who already live and operate freely in the US.  According to the New America Foundation, the overwhelming majority of terrorist attacks are committed by US-born citizens, and in the 14 years since 9/11, not one domestic terrorist attack has been committed by an outside foreign terrorist organization.

Elected officials in Illinois should not exploit this tragedy for political gain. They should not echo the empty and hateful rhetoric that Republican presidential candidates have clung to for the last several months. Instead, Illinois elected officials must embody the values reflected in Illinois’ historic commitment to refugees and immigrants of all faiths and backgrounds.

In this election year, ICIRR and CAIR-Chicago will continue to educate voters and hold officials and candidates on both sides of the aisle accountable for their words and deeds. In 2012, there were 13.2 million eligible but unregistered Latino and Asian voters in the US. The immigrant electorate continues to grow and by 2020, there will be 25.6 million potential Asian and Hispanic voters joining the US electorate. ICIRR and CAIR-Chicago are committed to reaching these individuals, and to ensuring these eligible voters make their voices heard at the polls.