Councilman Vescera’s Refugee Moratorium Down for the Count

by Derek Scarlino/Love and Rage

UTICA – Wednesday night’s Common Council meeting carried a little extra weight going in. On the table for the evening would be Councilman Frank Vescera’s proposed moratorium to halt the relocation of Syrian refugees in Utica for two years; a hastily put-together piece of legislation that struggled to relate to the facts on the crisis.

The added attention of the moratorium on the meeting would be funneled into a quiet death for the legislation as no other member of the council voted to endorse it, thus burying it in committee.

During the appeals, Vescera, a Democrat, lamented the lack of support stating, “It is unfortunate that eight members of this council are unwilling to voice support the views of those high-ranking military officials and others who want a legitimate vetting process to occur first.”

The Councilman then went on to list several elected representatives at both the state and federal levels who support some type of inhibitory action against accepting Syrian refugees in the wake of Daesh terrorist attacks in Paris last month such as Congressman Richard Hanna (R), State Senator Joe Griffo (R), and Senator Chuck Schumer (D).

Citing concerns for the safety of constituents in his ward, Vescera further argued, “This is why I have presented legislation placing a moratorium … on all Syrian refugee replacement within the city limits for two years, and all that legislation does is recommend and support the efforts of people who want to do this legitimately.”

It is difficult to validate the concerns of the Councilman as the exact wording of the moratorium itself goes beyond recommendations for a vetting process to bring up the question of “why the refugee center exists in Utica” in the first place, making a point to note that the area “[does] not need more” residents in need of assistance. This wording would make the moratorium an argument against resettlement period, let alone a two-year ban.

Cited further in the moratorium are concerns about an influx of people 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”. There was no refinement on how the determination of English-speaking skills or economic status made the requested vetting process safer.

In a direct quote to Love and Rage after the meeting, Vescera said, “My legislation is in support of those people who want to [seek asylum] legitimately.” Though, the actual wording of the moratorium brings up issues that seem to be veiled by a broader concern for security.

Other council members had differing opinions on the matter. Councilman At-Large, Jack LoMedico, who served as commander for Charlie Company 403rd Civil Affairs in northern Iraq, said, “Until you’re on the ground, and you see the suffering that these people are actually going through, not everybody there is in Daesh, 99.9 percent of these people just want to take care of their family — take care of their children — and get them out of harm’s way.”

LoMedico, who was embedded with the Kurdish in 2006 and 2007, brought to light some insight into the crisis experienced by one of the largest affected ethnic groups in the area as the Kurdish people are the largest, countryless ethnic group in the world. Kurds comprise the majority of the population of northern Iraq, eastern Turkey, western Iran and many parts of northern Syria itself — the site of a very bloody conflict between autonomous Kurds on one side, and Turkey, Syria’s Assad regime and Daesh on the other. Many ethnic Kurds have also been displaced by the fighting in the region and will likely be among Syrian refugees.

Referencing safety net concerns of the councilman and other elected officials throughout the United States, recently elected Common Council President Michael Galime attempted to outline the debate, “It’s such a multi-faceted issue … we shouldn’t be acting like this, we should be presenting a proper argument, going to the county, the state and the federal government, and saying, ‘We want these people, but you have to give us the proper resources to make this work.'”

On the exact criticisms of the vetting process for refugees espoused by Vescera, and efforts to circumvent it, there is little information available about just who is proposing these changes and what ways it affects the process. It is known, however, that the process for Syrian refugees is already more stringent than those from other areas. Of note is the government’s “Syrian Enhanced Review” which is used to create a dossier on potential refugees to be used during the questioning process. Also, the process for a Syrian refugee can already take up to three years.

When the wording over security concerns is put to scrutiny, it seems to reveal that efforts and motions throughout the United States, and here in Utica, over the Syrian refugee crisis is more rooted in the potential impact on the social safety net rather than the national security issues that are used to introduce them.

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