Mayor Svante Myrick ’09 announced that he will do “everything in [his] power to welcome Syrian refugees to Ithaca” in a Nov. 17 post on his Facebook page, echoing sentiments many New York State officials have also shown.
Referencing a Washington Post article about Americans’ negative attitude towards accepting Jewish refugees at the brink of World War II, Myrick wrote, “If we turn away all Syrian refugees, we are committing the same sin.”
There is a strong historical precedent for accepting refugees in New York State and in the Ithaca area — nearly one-third of refugees from the former Soviet Union sent to the United States were resettled in New York, according to the Migration Policy Institute.
In 2014, New York had the third highest resettlement rate of refugees across the U.S. states, admitting a total of 4,082 refugees. Ninety-five percent of all New York State refugees were resettled to upstate New York that year.
In particular, the Ithaca and Syracuse area has a high population of Burmese refugees, with the area accepting over 3,000 Burmese refugees by 2010, according to data presented by NYU Steinhardt School.
Myrick’s stance aligns with many New York State legislators. On Nov. 19, when the House of Representatives passed H.R. 4038, the American Security Against Foreign Enemies SAFE Act, which calls for stricter vetting procedures for Iraqi and Syrian refugees applying to the U.S. for refuge, 14 of 27 New York Representatives voted against its passing.
While states cannot determine federal policy on refugees, several Cornell law professors approved of Myrick’s and New York State legislator’s decisions.
Prof. Sital Kalantry, law, who specializes in international human rights, said she “welcomes” Myrick’s statement.
“Welcoming asylum seekers is consistent with the values of our city,” Kalantry said.
Prof. Stephen Yale-Loehr, law, said that while refugee policy falls under federal control, “New York State is doing the right thing.”
“States cannot accept refugees from country X and refuse to accept refugees from country Y,” Yale-Loehr said. “It is wise for New York State to welcome Syrian refugees. People do not understand the careful vetting process.”
Though refugee policy falls under federal jurisdiction, New York State admits refugees through additional programs not available all over the country. New York is one of just 14 states that participates in the Unaccompanied Refugee Minors program, which offers various forms of health, education, financial and case management to help minors entering without a guardian.
New York’s Bureau of Refugee and Immigrant Assistance also offers various refugee aid programs, including the local county-provided Refugee Cash Assistance and Refugee Medical Assistance for those not eligible for other federal assistance programs.
Though the amount of Syrian refugees that may potentially relocate to New York State is not yet known, nearly 50 Syrian refugees have already settled in New York so far this year, according to The Associated Press.