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Christian Group Says Accepting Syrian Refugees Should Be The ‘Central Obligation Of People Of Faith’

A religious group representing Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox churches in southwestern Pennsylvania urged lawmakers to accept Syrian refugees on Monday, offering their own congregations as way points for resettlement.

The Christian Associates of Southwest Pennsylvania echoed recent sentiments by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf and Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto in their support of foreign aid.

“It’s our responsibility as people of faith to respond,” CASP Executive Minister Liddy Barlow said.

Not all state lawmakers share that belief.

Representative Mark Mustio (R-Allegheny) said Monday he doesn’t have a problem with refugees coming to Pennsylvania but wants to pause the process that brings them to the U.S.

“There’s two things: one is that we need to have confidence in our government, that the screening process is effective," he said. "And two, we’re going to act like we should always act and be welcoming to people that are legally in our country who want to contribute.”

Barlow said the process is thorough.

“Typically that process takes over two years from the time a person applies for refugee status until they are notified of the ability to enter a country that is actually selected for them by the United Nations,” she said.

Refugees wishing to enter the U.S. legally must first register with the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR), which would make the initial referral. The process, estimated to take between 18 and 24 months, requires repeated assessments to confirm refugee status and biometric data, including medical conditions or trauma.

According to Newsweek, since the Syrian civil war broke out in 2011, 23,000 Syrian refugees have been referred to the U.S. by the UNHCR, and 2,281 have been admitted.

State Rep. Rick Saccone (R-Allegheny) called it “a false sense of security” when supporters of refugees say the screening process is extensive. He said his problem is not so much with the process, but rather the lack of verifiable data personal data that the Syrian government has and has shared with the U.S. and its screeners.

“They don’t have much to go on,” Saccone said. “They can come in and say ‘I’m from this town; I went to this school. I did this, I did that. I’m not a jihadist, OK, thank you.’ What else do they have?”

Saccone and Mustio are two of several Republican state lawmakers who signed a letter asking Wolf to reconsider his position on Syrian refugees; they are also calling on the federal government to make the process of refugee acceptance and resettlement more transparent. 

90.5 WESA reporters Mora McLaughlin and Megan Harris contributed to this report.