Peduto On Syrian Refugees: 'We Can No Longer Close Our Hearts Or Our Doors'

Nov 16, 2015

Mayor Bill Peduto says now more than ever Pittsburghers need to remain open to helping Syrian refugees.
Credit Lionel Cironneau / AP

In the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks and several American states saying they will not accept Syrian refugees, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto remained steadfast in keeping the city open to those fleeing their homeland. 

It’s at times like this when we truly test the words on the Statue of Liberty, and to be able to say, are we a country that will live by the heritage that brought other refugees to this shore?" Peduto said. "People who have built their homes, their families, businesses and have become the fabric of what we know as the United States today.”

The mayor has received criticism, mostly through online comments, over his position to welcome Syrian refugees to the Steel City. Peduto said fear is a natural response to attacks such as those in Paris and others perpetrated by ISIS, but added that's what terrorists want – to spread fear and hysteria that affect foreign laws and policies. He said if the U.S. closes off its cities, the terrorists win. 

“Now we become what we profess we are fighting – extremists in our own way – in recognizing those that are trying to flee from terrorism as terrorists themselves,” he said.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf today said his administration will continue to work with the federal government resettling Syrian refugees. Pennsylvania's Department of Human Services says 14 Syrian refugees have arrived in the state since Oct. 1. Peduto said two Syrian families are currently living in Pittsburgh. 

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch referenced the nation's visa waiver program early Monday. Terrorist fighters recruited from America and coaxed overseas remain her office's highest concern, she said.

"I would urge all Americans to continue as we have since the deadly attack on our own shores, to be vigilant, to be on the alert and to look out for attacks as we've seen in the past, but to not let this change either our way of life or our values," Lynch said.

Peduto said many in Pennsylvania don't realize Pittsburgh has a long-standing and growing Muslim community.

“When you go to the hospital, it’s a good chance that that doctor who’s treating you, that she’s Muslim," he said. "That that engineer working on that project on the Fort Pitt Bridge – he’s Muslim. They are a part of our community and they have been a part of our community since the Civil War.”

City officials will not facilitate refugee resettlement, Peduto said. That is done mainly through outside organizations, many of which are religious, he said.

Resettling refugee families in the U.S. can take anywhere from 18 to 24 months with rigorous Homeland Security and counter-terrorism screenings. 

Peduto said he would never do anything to put the city in jeopardy, and said that in the wake of violent terrorist attacks the natural response is to flee or fight. It's time to fight, he said.

“One of the things we have to fight for are the principles of democracy, which made this country, which other people look towards as a place where they can escape the hell that they live in to take care of themselves and their families," he said. "At a time like this, we can no longer close our hearts or our doors to the opportunity that they need.”