Young people recognize need to help those fleeing war-torn countries, CAIR OK executive says

NORMAN, Okla. – Dozens of University of Oklahoma students are supporting a movement to bring Syrian refugees into the state despite protests from the governor and conservative lawmakers.

The students gathered Tuesday near the North Oval holding letters that formed the phrase “Refugees welcome in OK.” Photographs were taken by a group known as Students for Liberty with the idea that the photos will be used to support refugee groups around Oklahoma.

Several of the students commented that protests against the refugees is bigoted and helps fuel fear mongering in Oklahoma and throughout the nation.

“We have a humanitarian duty to open our doors to tens of thousands of Syrian refugees,” said student Sage Mauldin. “Right now, the attitude among so many people is xenophobic or indifference. The opposite of love isn’t hate. It’s indifference. We should do whatever we can to help our brothers and sisters regardless of where they’re from.”

Mauldin, who is working toward a master’s degree in human relations, cautioned against issuing stereotypes and lumping people of a different race or ethnicity into one category.

“Not every Muslim is a terrorist and not every terrorist is a Muslim,” he said.

Logan Lowery, a senior, opposes the indifference people express and the generalization that the refugees are operating as terrorists.

“The situation is these are people who need our help. I want to fight the stigma they face.”

OU graduate Dan Upp said he want to show the refugees that “someone cares.”

“I want them to know that not all of us view them as radical terrorists,” he said.

Wade Casey, president of the OU chapter of Students for Liberty, said the bias he’s seen is more toward change than anything else.

“I think people are afraid of the negative outcomes that might come from change,” he said. “There’s more danger to live among everyday Americans than with refugees.”

Adam Soltani, executive director of the Oklahoma chapter of the Council on American Islamic Affairs, said the OU students are typical of young people who are concerned about global issues and the impact they have on people around the world.

“The message here is that the younger population, which I say is 18 to 35, is connected to the world and they realize we have a responsibility with our vast resources to offer a home to those in need and are fleeing war. They see the impact of what goes on in Syria and how it’s affected the Syrian people,” he said.

The moral support shown by the OU students “speaks to the broader Oklahoma community,” Soltani said. “I think a lot of Oklahomans are willing to embrace people in need. Not everyone has hatred in their heart and believes refugees are connected to some extremist or terror group.”

However, the majority of public comments toward refugees have been negative in their tone since the Paris shootings and bombings that killed 129 people and injured more than 400. Reports that one terrorist entered France as a refugee ignited the controversy that all Syrian refugees should be banned from the U.S.

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, along with governors from 30 other states, urged President Barack Obama to suspend the nation’s refugee relocation program until security measures have been reevaluated. Immigration experts noted early in the debate that states cannot prohibit refugees from relocating anywhere in the U.S. Refugees and their entry into the country is a federal issue only.

Meanwhile, the U.S. House last week passed a measure calling for the directors of the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and national intelligence to verify that none of the Syrian refugees pose a security threat to the country. The measure now goes before the U.S. Senate. The president has promised to veto the bill if passed by the Senate.

The measure also would require Homeland Security to submit a monthly report to Congress detailing the number of refugees who applied and why, if any, were not admitted.

Potential refugees already were subjected to an interview and security and health screenings before their application can be approved by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. The U.S. admitted almost 70,000 refugees in 2015, including 187 from Syria and 872 from Iraq in October, according to the Refugee Processing Center. Homeland Security plans to admit 10,000 more Syrians during the 2016 fiscal year.

Oklahoma has only three Syrian refugees, all located in Jenks. They were part of a family reunification project, state officials said.