PI Original Ellyn Fortino Friday November 20th, 2015, 5:13pm

Advocates Meet With Rauner's Office, Call For Acceptance Of Syrian Refugees

Refugee advocates met with Rauner administration officials Friday, calling on the governor to reverse his position on refugee policy.

Illinois refugee advocates continued their calls Friday for Gov. Bruce Rauner to reverse his position on Syrian refugee resettlement in the state.

Leaders with the Illinois Coalition For Immigrant and Refugee Rights met with administration representatives Friday to discuss their respective positions on the refugee issue. 

"We certainly stated our position on this that there is a [screening] process and that we believe the process is working," ICIRR CEO Lawrence Benito said at an afternoon press conference. "The governor's office said that they needed to do their own due diligence to make sure that the process was working, and for them to have input. We told them that we would be happy to answer and help in answering any follow-up questions, and we certainly left the door open to further communication."

In light of the terrorist attacks in Paris, Rauner wants to temporarily suspended Syrian refugee resettlement in Illinois. He is one among over 30 governors seeking to block Syrian refugees in their states, though there's debate whether they have the power to do so.

Rauner on Friday joined 26 other Republican governors in sending a letter to President Barack Obama, asking that he halt the settlement of additional Syrian refugees in the country "until we can ensure the citizens of our states that an exhaustive review of all security measures has been completed and the necessary changes have been implemented."

Suzanne Akhras Sahloul with the Syrian Community Network was among the advocates who met with Rauner administration officials, including the governor's deputy chief of staff. 

"We made a request on behalf of the refugees to have (Rauner) come and sit down with a refugee family and get to know them and to drink tea with them and just to hear their stories," she said. 

In a statement issued after Friday's meeting, Rauner spokeswoman Catherine Kelly said: "The administration explained to the groups that while Illinois wants to be a welcoming place for refugees, the federal government is still not sharing critical information requested by states. We hope they will advocate with federal representatives to encourage more information sharing from the federal government to the states."

Friday's meeting came on the heels of the U.S. House passing legislation Thursday seeking to implement a stronger vetting process for Syrian and Iraqi refugees looking to come to the United States. 

President Barack Obama has threatened to veto the legislation if it were to clear the Senate and arrive on his desk.

U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL,9), who stood with refugee advocates Friday, said it is unlikely the House bill would become law. Schakowsky believes there would be enough votes in the House to sustain a presidential veto of the legislation. 

However, Schakowsky said it is possible lawmakers in support of restricting Syrian refugees could bring up the issue via "policy riders" to spending legislation.

Schakowsky and the advocates stressed that the U.S. vetting process for refugees is stringent and thorough.

"This process takes between 18 months and two years, sometimes as long as three years," the congresswoman said. "Right now, it is only people who have been in the pipeline for a long time that are seeking admission to the United States. Those starting today can expect a very long process."

Schakowsky also pushed back on "fear-mongering" against refugees in the United States. 

"I understand that people are fearful, but I think we need to understand that out of all the refugees that have come here since 9/11, we have not had a single incident of one of those people being a threat to the United States of America," she said. "These are people who themselves are victims of violence, not perpetrators of violence who are seeking to come here."

Sahloul said Chicago is currently home to 18 Syrian refugee families.

"The families who are here with us, either they have a medical case, or they have sustained an injury or they're single moms with children," she said.

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