Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Refugees Quietly Settle in Paterson

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Refugees Quietly Settle in Paterson

Article excerpt

A family of seven Syrian refugees was quietly ushered into their new home in Paterson in a climate so tense that the agency working to help the family shunned media attention as Governor Christie continued to rail against bringing them here in the wake of the Paris terror attacks.

The political firestorm over Syrian refugees -- which erupted when links between the Paris attackers and the Islamic State group in Syria came to light -- has heightened anxieties among advocates, who worry the families they're working to help will be denied services like Medicaid or food assistance.

The family's arrival comes two weeks after Christie refused to permit more Syrian refugees to settle in New Jersey and vowed to prevent them from getting public services. Christie, who was campaigning on Monday for the GOP presidential nomination in New Hampshire, again slammed the Obama administration for what he said was a lack of information-sharing about refugees, through a governor's office spokeswoman. The Obama administration, at the same time, offered a new program for notifying governors about refugees in their states.

Church World Service, one of several agencies that resettles refugees in the United States, in response to such threats -- like Christie's to shut off funds to refugees -- has tried to increase private fundraising and support by reaching out to houses of worship, private groups and individuals, said Will Haney, associate director for external relations in the group's immigration and refugee program.

"We are trying to create enough resources in case the individuals aren't able to receive the services, so they will be able to get a good footing in the U.S.," Haney said.

His group closely guarded the identity of the family that settled in Paterson on Monday, declining to provide information about their background or the circumstances leading to their admission as refugees. The agency at first said it would grant interviews to some media outlets but rescinded that decision out of concern for the family. That reversal followed Christie's stated ban on permitting more Syrian refugees in New Jersey.

Haney said the agency wants to make sure the family is first "willing and able to talk" and is in a "secure place."

"We want to make sure that they are in a welcoming environment and they won't be put at risk," he said.

Although advocates are concerned about safety amid anti-refugee sentiment and political rhetoric, Haney said that there was "nothing to indicate that they would be at risk in New Jersey."

The federal-state clash over Syrian refugees -- playing out in New Jersey and 30 other states where governors claim refugees could be a threat -- is unfolding as the U.S. prepares to settle 10,000 Syrian refugees over the next year.

In a statement Monday, a Christie spokeswoman said: "In this case and all prior, the federal government has failed to consult with New Jersey, has shared no security or background information, and can give no assurances about the integrity of the resettlement process." The governor "will remain opposed to the continuation of this program until the fundamental concerns for our national and state security are addressed," the statement said. …

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