There is no doubt in Missouri Sen. Robert Schaaf’s (R) mind that state officials need to be very careful about the Syrian refugees they let into their communities.
“There are some people who think differently from us who I don’t want to come into the United States. I don’t want them to come into Missouri,” Schaaf told his colleagues during a Nov. 30 joint legislative budget committee hearing concerning Syrian refugees being dumped in Missouri by the Obama administration.
“They think that women should wear burqas, women should not go to public schools, they should not drive,” he added. “They think it’s okay to cut people’s heads off. Those kinds of ideas are not OK.”
Being neighborly with someone who’d just as soon cut your head off as borrow a cup of sugar might seem perfectly reasonable.
But Senate Democrat Jamilah Nasheed said the joint budget committee hearing, which was orchestrated by Republicans, was much ado about nothing but politics.
“Do we really, really want to know? Or are we just having a circus?” said Nasheed. “What you see happen today is candidates running for 2016 running on the backs of immigrants.”
The division between Republicans and Democrats in this acrimonious debate is wider and stronger than many of the borders the Syrians are streaming across in Europe.
Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon has rejected calls from GOP legislators to block Syrian refugees from entering Missouri. Of course, Nixon wants the federal government to be careful, but he trusts them to not let any ISIS terrorists into the Show Me State.
Schaaf is as far as possible from Nixon on the spectrum of this debate.
And his displeasure with the federal Syrian refugee resettlement program was amplified when Schaaf found out there is nothing Missouri can do about regulating how many Syrians get into the state or screening those who want to live in Missouri.
This is all a federal job, and Schaaf was not the only Republican bothered by their lack of participation and control.
“It would make me feel better if we could just ask for a pause and really look at how we’re vetting people from that region and if it’s the best interest of Missouri to have them come into our state,” Rep. Marsha Haefner (R) told KTVI-TV.
There is no hope of that.
State officials’ hands are tied behind their backs when it comes to vetting Syrian refugees.
The most anyone at the Missouri state capitol in Jefferson City can hope for is a report from the feds on who is being allowed to settle next door to their constituents.
Haefner and Schaaf did learn Missouri has received more than $4 million in federal grants to help with the refugees following the ISIS attacks in Paris, and only $200,000 has been spent to help elderly refugees.
Anna Crosslin runs the International Institute of St. Louis, an organization that works with refugees. She tried to calm fears of Republicans on the panel by saying most Syrian refugees will only help strengthen Missouri’s economy.
“The immigrants are 60 percent more likely to start businesses than native-grown Americans, so they’re part of the backbone of the economy that helps us generate jobs at this point,” she said.
But that isn’t good enough for Haefner.
President Obama wants to move at least 10,000 Syrian refugees into the United States. Only 29 are in Missouri now. If more are coming, Haefner wants to know who is going to pay for them: Washington or Jefferson City.
“With limited resources for social services in our state this adds to the burden,” she said.
Democrats argue the time to be proactive on the Syrian refugee issue is now. They’ve offered a proposal to increase state funding for refugee resettlement along with increased security at public facilities in Missouri.
Assistant House Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty (D) accused her GOP counterparts of only wanting to “sit on their hands and do nothing.”
“Failing to fund services won’t keep Missourians safe today and it won’t guard against emerging threats to our safety,” she said. “Now is the time for action.”
As she and her fellow Democrats offered a program to spend more state money on refugee programs, Beatty also said she was worried about what Republicans might have up their sleeves.
“House Democrats will fight attempts by Republican Party leaders to establish internment camps or religious databases,” Beatty said.
“House Democrats will focus on what actually keeps Missourians safe — building information sharing capacity, securing critical infrastructure, enhancing state and local cybersecurity capabilities, and assisting local government.”
Sen. Kurt Schaefer (R), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said no more meetings have been scheduled. They will review all the comments that were made Nov. 30.
Several lawmakers told reporters they might consider inviting some people from Team Obama to their next committee hearing, so they can find out what happens when a refugee, Syrian or otherwise, tries (legally) to get into the U.S.