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UPDATE: Mayor Charlie Hales says city will open its arms to Syrians fleeing terror

TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said Tuesday that the state would welcome Syrian refugees, even though some governors have expressed concerns about safety in the aftermath of the Nov. 13 Paris terrorist attacks.Gov. Kate Brown and Portland Mayor Charlie Hales both said they would continue to welcome refugees Tuesday, despite reports that a suspect in the Paris attacks possessed a Syrian passport.

Brown made her announcement on Twitter. She had declined to comment Monday on her position on accepting refugees from the war-torn Middle Eastern country, where the so-called "Islamic State" terrorist group has captured significant territory.

At least 27 governors, mostly Republicans, have said they want to block more Syrian refugees from entering their states based on security concerns. Several other governors, including those from Washington and Vermont, have extended welcomes to the refugees, according to media reports.

"Clearly, Oregon will continue to accept refugees," Brown tweeted. "They seek safe haven, and we will continue to open the doors of opportunity to them. The words of the Statue of Liberty apply in Oregon just as they do in every other state."

Gov. Kate Brown's tweets on refugees coming to Oregon.

Governors have no authority to bar Syrian refugees from crossing into state borders but could seek to reduce local services provided to the newcomers. The federal government determines the influx of refugees and other immigrants allowed into the country. President Obama recently announced that the United States would accept 10,000 Syrian refugees in the next year.

Only one Syrian refugee to date has settled in Oregon, according to the state Department of Human Services. More were expected for this year, but local refugee resettlement organizations have no firm numbers on how many more may arrive.

"They expect very small numbers that don't usually increase until community is established for them here," said Christy Sinatra, a DHS spokeswoman.

Refugees may ask to settle in a particular state where they have social connections, or national volunteer agencies settle refugees based on resources available in different regions, according to DHS.

Portland Mayor Charlie Hales said the city would continue to accept Syrian refugees after the White House assured officials Tuesday that “refugees will undergo the highest level of security checks of any traveler to the United States to ensure Americans’ safety.”

“As Syrians flee terror in their home state, Portland will welcome with open arms the individuals and families that the federal government places here,” Hales said in a Tuesday afternoon press release.

“Meanwhile, we as Portlanders, Oregonians, Americans, and human beings need to remember that refugees are fleeing the senseless violence that has taken so many lives recently. I will be greeting Portland’s first Syrian refugee family at the airport, and I expect the community will help make our city their new home. It’s the Portland way.”

State Rep. Bill Post, R-Keizer, wrote to Brown on Monday to ask the governor whether the state plans to accept more refugees. "I strongly believe that America, and specifically Oregon, should always be a place where those seeking relief from religious persecution may come and build a new safer life," Post wrote. "At the same time, I am very concerned that if we take any and every refugee, we may expose Oregonians to acts of terrorism like Paris experienced last Friday."

Post requested information on whether Oregon is scheduled to receive Syrian refugees and whether the state has a plan to admit those fleeing religious persecution while "still protecting our citizens from the possibility of a terror attack here." Read the letter here

Brown responded to Post's letter Tuesday reiterating that Oregon would welcome refugees but that the federal government is responsible for setting policy regarding refugees. Oregon DHS gives refugees up to eights months of cash assistance and employment services. The agency tracks only refugees participating in the short-term Refugee Program.

By Paris Achen
Portland Tribune Capital Bureau Reporter
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