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Lebanon man petitions Gov. Tom Wolf to forbid Syrian refugees

Written by John Latimer/Lebanon Daily News | Nov 20, 2015 9:58 AM
petition_lebanon.jpg

Brandon Gass of Lebanon, checks the status of his petition on Change.org that calls for Gov. Tom Wolf to reject an influx of Syrian refugees into the state. As of Wednesday afternoon, the petition had garnered more than 63,000 signatures in 48 hours. (Photo: John Latimer, Lebanon Daily News)

(Lebanon) -- A Lebanon man's Internet petition calling for Gov. Tom Wolf to deny Syrian refugees asylum in Pennsylvania has garnered tens of thousands of signatures.

Brandon Gass of Lebanon posted his petition on the website Change.org on Monday afternoon and on Wednesday, just 48 hours later, it had been signed by more than 64,000 people.

Gass, who works at Fuhrman's Industrial Inc. in North Cornwall Township, was inspired to create the petition in the wake of last week's terror attacks in Paris, when Wolf opened his arms to Syrians fleeing their war torn country.

The petition references the violence that has occurred in many European countries that have accepted Syrian refugees and questions the government's ability to effectively screen thousands of refugees.

The petition states "we cannot risk any more of our citizens' lives to accommodate the lives of others."

On Wednesday Gass, 38, said his feelings run deeper than security risks, and he doesn't want to be perceived as a racist or Islamophobe. He said he wrote the petition while angry at Wolf's rush to accept the Syrians and would temper his statement if he had a chance to write again.

"I'm not opposed to helping people in a time of need," he said. "What I am opposed to is the politicizing of this situation and the rush to do things right away. I'm opposed to the lack of scrutiny on these refugees coming into the county. I'm not opposed to giving these people a safer life and a longer life."

While acknowledging that many who signed the petition are fearful of Syrian refugees and the possibility of terrorist attacks here, Gass said he is more concerned about helping the state's homeless, which he numbered at 50,000.

"It's a matter of we have a lot of responsibilities at home that our state government is not addressing and our federal government is ignoring," he said. "It only seems fair that we provide for the needs of Americans first."

It is the first petition Gass has ever created and he found Change.org by googling 'how to create a petition." He was stunned when he saw the numbers of people who signed the petition, and credits social media for its wildfire-like spread. He also credited the website for giving the petition a boost by promoting it as one that was trending.

He plans on keeping the petition open until the end of the week when he will email it to Gov. Wolf and members of the state Legislature. He also plans to send it to members of the U.S. Congress and President Obama.

While it might get Wolf's attention, Gass said, he is not holding out too much hope that it will convince the governor to change his stance. One thing working against it, he noted, is the federal Refugee Act of 1980 which gives little power to the states, other than an opinion on where refugees are placed.

"The possibility this will change Gov. Wolf's mind and stop him from doing it now I feel are pretty slim. But at least he will know where a percentage of people in this state stand," he said. "And if he wants to be reelected it might give him something to think about. Maybe he will slow his decision making down and be more attentive to the people in the state who put him in office."

The governor is also being pressured by members of the state Legislature, including Rep. Russ Diamond (R-102) who represents portions of Lebanon County.

In a news release issued Wednesday, Diamond criticized Wolf for pledging to allow Syrian refugees to enter the state and promised that the Legislature would do what it could to "pause the flow of immigrants from terror sponsoring nations."

Diamond refererenced the chaos created in 1985 when Cuban refugees, many of whom had been incarcerated in their native country, where housed at Fort Indiantown Gap.

"I believe America ought to continue its role of helping refugees of foreign aggression and serving as that shining city on the hill," he said. "However, with recent events in France and elsewhere, we must now step back and properly assess whether these Syrian refugees are in fact refugees, or embedded agents of our enemies."

As of Wednesday, a partisan collection of 30 Republican governors and 1 Democratic governor had issued statements in opposition of accepting Syrian refugees into their states.

Wolf, a Democrat, has reiterated he will not be joining them.

In a letter sent to the state Legislature on Tuesday and printed on his governor.gov.pa website Wednesday, Wolf noted that the authority of the federal government trumps that of the state when it comes to settling refugees, and expressed confidence in the refugee screening process, which includes in-person interviews with members of the FBI and several other intelligence gathering security agencies.

"Pennsylvania will not seek to disrupt efforts to resettle refugees from humanitarian crises throughout the world, including Syria," Wolf wrote. "To this end, I will work with state and national partners to ensure that the federal government takes every precaution to make sure refugees from Syria and elsewhere are properly screened prior to admittance to the United States. At the same time, I want to remain true to Pennsylvania's long and noble tradition of being a welcoming place."


This article comes to us through a partnership between Lebanon Daily News and WITF.

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Comments: 1

  • Flash10053 img 2015-11-20 15:00

    Governor Wolf is being a statesman in not pandering to fear.

    Republican are attacking our democracy and our national heritage

    Collective punishment is not the American way and is destructive to our democracy.

    It only reminds us of the internment of the American Indian, and the Japanese.

    It is the same as the yellow star to identify Jews.

    Immigrants and refugees are our national heritage.

    Republicans are putting America to shame and destroying American values.

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