Derek Scarlino

Utica Councilman’s Refugee Moratorium is Short-Sighted, Ill-informed

by Derek Scarlino/Love and Rage

(Note: Due to the similarity of the posts, most of the sources used for this article have been used in the recently published article ‘Congressman Hanna Joins Cowards, Calls for Immigration Halt for Syrian Refugees’, to avoid recycling them the link for the first article has been posted instead.)

Much has been said in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris about the refugees eminating from Syria. Debate continues on both national and international stages as Western leaders scramble to offer the best strategy of how to keep their populations safe from terrorism while simultaneously creating more of it.

Utica has not been spared inclusion in this battle. A tier-two refugee relocation city, there are other places of higher priority on the resettlement of refugees. Nonetheless Utica has been included in the Obama administration’s plans to resettle 10,000 of those escaping the conflict in Syria by accepting up to 400 more refugees.

As noted in a previous article for Love and Rage, Utica has accepted over 15,000 refugees since 1981 from conflict zones across the globe. This population has given Utica a unique look among cities of similar size, boasting hues of diversity typically seen in larger cities. They have proven to be positive actors in the local economy. They have added to our culture and, arguably the most important for Uticans, our tastebuds. A point of pride for many Uticans over the last few decades has been the city’s committment to reaching out and helping those in need despite their religion, race or political opinions. Utica has taken in over 90 percent of the state’s refugees since 2004. Why invoke a moratorium now?

The argument, according to the wording of the moratorium itself (posted in-full below), centers around the potential of terrorists sneaking into the country as refugees and launching attacks from within the United States. While terrorists, associating their cause to perceptions of Islam, have carried out attacks against the US from within the US, they weren’t refugees.

As noted in an article by Alex Nowrasteh for the Cato Institute (yeah, chew on that): “Of the 859,629 refugees admitted from 2001 onwards, only three have been convicted of planning terrorist attacks on targets outside of the United States, and none was successfully carried out.  That is one terrorism-planning conviction for every 286,543 refugees that have been admitted.  To put that in perspective, about 1 in every 22,541 Americans committed murder in 2014.”

To add further perspective, as news of this moratorium, proposed by Utica Councilman Frank Vescera, spread through the community, another act of right wing terrorism was carried out in Colorado Springs. These mass shootings, which should be categorized as terrorism, have outnumbered the days passed in 2015. As of this writing, which began on the 332nd day of the year, there have been 338 mass shootings in the United States — not including Colorado Springs. For clarity, a mass shooting is defined as an event resulting in at least 4 victims.

We do have terrorism concerns here within the US, and they’re domestic — even the “jihadist” ones. However, suggesting a moratorium on white Christian males would never be taken seriously in spite of the very real threat posed by them. They may not be responsible for every mass shooting, but their prevalence should be taken at least as seriously as a threat by Islamic extremists.

Fact v. Fiction
Much of the wording of the moratorium itself is as misleading as the intent behind it is misinformed. It is presented below, in-full, to be broken down point by point:


WHEREAS, it was announced by the Executive Director of the Mohawk Valley Center for Refugees, Shelly Callahan, in accordance with announced intentions of the President of the United States, that 400 or more Syrian Refugees would relocate to Utica, New York and more specifically, to West Utica, and

While the intent to relocate 400 Syrian refugees is true, Callahan has stated that there is no plan to relocate refugees into specific districts of the city, “We resettle refugees into the city of Utica … Primarily for the past several years that’s been the Cornhill area, but it’s wherever we can find safe and affordable housing.”

WHEREAS, this intended relocation preceded the carnage just witnessed in Paris, and

To add detail, the United States has admitted 400 Syrian refugees in the past year. The war has been occurring for 4 1/2 years. If you weren’t aware of the scope of the conflict, or the resettlment plans, there’s a bit of insight.

WHEREAS, it is reported by Paris authorities that one of the mass murders of those innocent persons had slipped into France posing as a Syrian refugee, and

Here is where the issue begins to take shape. Despite the fact that the passport linked to the terrorist in Paris was a fake, it is apparently time to open the flood gates to hyperbole and fear. Already noted in several articles, including an original by Love and Rage, all but one of the Paris attackers were European nationals. Further, Muslims who carried out terrorist attacks against domestic targets in the United States were all in the country under circumstances that did not include refugee status.

WHEREAS, Americans have been told that those who would be allowed into the country would be completely vetted as to any prior anti-American sentiments, a claim which has been vigorously disputed by top government officials, stating the necessary resources are not in place or available to do so, and

The vetting process for any refugee takes at least two years. It begs the question of what a two-year moratorium would accomplish in the first place, but the truth of the matter is that there’s no risk-free way of doing anything related to curbing terrorism in the name of Islam. There is, though, a way to take the smallest of aggregate numbers and build up a crisis around them. The argument here simply betrays a narrow view of probability. Police kill more Americans than terrorists. Cancer kills more. Heart disease kills more. Falling out of bed. Where are the moratoriums against unhealthy lifestyle choices, drug war policies and beds without sidebars to prevent falling?

WHEREAS, it has been reported that Arab nations in the region do not wish to participate in what is being characterized as a humane gesture by accepting Syrian Refugees, even though that would offer a less disruptive option for those being displaced, and

Demonstrably false. Also covered previously by Love and Rage are the numbers of refugees being taken in by countries closest to the conflict such as Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon, the UAE, Egypt, Libya and Jordan. The above point takes into consideration only the spin of right wing news outlets that no Muslim countries are taking in Syrian refugees, despite the fact that it is only the majority of Gulf countries denying them. The Gulf states do not comprise the entirety of the Near East and of the 4 million refugees fleeing Syria, 3.6 million have ended up in the countries already listed while Europe has only received an estimated 348,000. While news reports depict Europe bearing the brunt of the crisis, a bit of context goes a long way.

WHEREAS, a large number of state governors have informed the Federal Government that they will not comply and accept any Syrian Refugees in their states, and

No shortage of politicians capitalizing on this and their cases are as myopic as Congressman Hanna’s or Councilman Vescera’s. Also, immigration policy is set by the Federal government, so the stances of those governors are symbolic at best and represent the same misinformed opinions as our own elected officials in Utica and New York’s 22nd Congressional District. Under scrutiny, the opposition in Congress may be nothing more than a ruse as lawmakers who have been battling over enviromental regulations attached to an omnibus bill may themselves attach a provision to block Syrian refugees from being resettled.

WHEREAS, it is difficult to understand why the Center for Refugees continues to exist in Utica when we have scores of Americans who are in dire need of federal assistance and we do not need more, and

Easily one of the more xenophobic reasons behind the moratorium is questioning why the refugee center exists in Utica in the first place, but answering that can likely start in refugees providing an economic engine for the city, starting businesses and renovating entire neighborhoods of residences. The intent behind this point is clear and that is to paint the incoming refugees as an economic burden reliant on assistance programs while a 2000 Hamilton College study found that refugees provided a net benefit to the city.

WHEREAS, the name Mohawk Valley essentially means Oneida County and it appears affluent municipalities including Clinton & New Hartford have allowed Utica to take the brunt of providing all the services that are being made available, and

The Mohawk Valley does not essentially mean Oneida County. Not at all. Geographically, the Mohawk Valley extends from the middle of Oneida County to the Hudson river (it doesn’t even include the entirety of Oneida County). It is literally the path of the Mohawk River between the Adirondack and Catskill Mountains. Used colloquially, it still imbues no extra burden on municipalities that pay less attention to a moniker used more as a marketing tool than an indication of community. Could more affluent municpalities do more? Always, but this is a poor argument.

WHEREAS, the federal government now wants to add to that burden the imposition of resources to those who are impoverished, don’t speak the language and most importantly have secreted among themselves persons who could be a substantial safety concern to this community, and

The most damning evidence so far that this moratorium is centered on an exclusionary worldview more than anything. First, it has already been established that refugees have had a beneficial impact on the local economy. Second, we have the resources to help refugees learn English when they arrive. The last point is based on pure speculation; the sum of all fears effortlessly appropriated to an easy target by dismissing context and facts. The moratorium accepts the dominant idea — shared by the extreme right — that refugees and migrants pose a problem, threat, or some kind of crisis for “us” and “our personal freedoms.” In doing so it reiterates a common nationalist argument: “They” and their way of life are incompatible with “us” and “our way of life”.

WHEREAS, immigrants have historically been welcomed to Utica, however the present proposal appears to be severely flawed and involves our country once again when the countries who are the closest and most able to help the refugees refuse to do so.

The proposal’s flaws are mostly remedied through actual fact-checking. Again the debunked point of nearby countries not offering help rears its head. Issues of housing remain, but that should be attributed to finding housing that is affordable and not contaminated with lead — an already outstanding problem in Utica. Where’s that moratorium?

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that the Common Council for the City of Utica by this legislation informs Federal Authorities and the Mohawk Valley Center for Refugees that it has determined that the proposed re-settlement of any Syrian Refugees including the 400 scheduled for West Utica or any other location within the City of Utica places a serious threat to the safety of its’ citizens and too heavy a burden on the resources of the City of Utica and the Mohawk Valley, and

Therefore be it resolved that this moratorium puts on display an uninformed take on the situation in Syria, security risks, resettlement issues with consistent adherence to delusion and factoids on the etirety of the matter.

BE IT FURTHERED RESOLVED, that a ‘moratorium’ on the resettlement of any Syrian Refugees in the City of Utica being immediately put into place upon the passage of this legislation until December 31, 2017, and BE IT FURTHERED RESOLVED, that copies of this legislation be sent to Governor Cuomo, New York Senators Schumer & Gillibrand, Congressman Hanna, State Senator Griffo, Assemblyman Brindisi and County Executive Picente.

That the proposed moratorium cannot truly achieve anything except fostering emnity for future community members, reasons for support beyond security concerns will mostly include racist and bigoted opinions of Arabs and Muslims.

This moratorium defies decency for members of our community who have escaped conflicts worldwide many of which again US fingerprints on them. We have plenty of white right wing nationalists right here in the US shooting up people in churches, schools, movie theatres and on college campuses. Central New York is a particularly conservative part of the state. Any moratoriums on movie theaters? Planned Parenthood? Churches?

The US fails to even get a conviction rate in Guantanamo that’s high enough to validate its operation as a detention facitlity. Of 779 prisoners since 2002, 500 have been prosecuted in federal court resulting in just 8 convictions. Repeating the question: Of the over 15,000 refugees allowed into Utica since 1981, how many terrorist attacks have there been in the city?

Where are the facts? Where is the argument coming from? Pure, simplistic opportunity at a very conspicuous time of year. What a total waste of time and an insult to one of the area’s finest characteristics: Diversity.

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