State leaders should not close off Georgia to Syrians fleeing their war-torn country, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said Tuesday.
Despite his high-profile political alliance with Gov. Nathan Deal, Reed disagrees with the governor’s stance that Georgia should shut its doors to additional Syrian refugees.
Monday, Deal joined a chorus of Republican governors who — on the heels of deadly terrorist attacks in Paris — are questioning a White House-led resettlement program. At least one of the suspects believed to be involved in the attacks reportedly entered Europe among the current wave of refugees.
“I do believe that you have to acknowledge genuine fear and concern from the public. I don’t believe that means you completely close all borders,” Reed said. “I do believe it calls for extra diligence and for a review of procedures as it relates to Syrians entering Atlanta and Georgia.”
Earlier this week, Deal ordered state agencies to halt efforts to resettle Syrian refugees. Deal also called on state and federal officials to “confirm” the backgrounds of the 66 Syrian refugees who have settled in Georgia since the conflict there began.
“We think that’s the appropriate thing to do until the federal government and Congress can weigh in on an appropriate way to make sure that we’re not subjecting our homeland to the kind of problems that Paris saw,” Deal said.
The governor acknowledged, however, there is little the state can do to prevent the federal government from resettling refugees here.
Reed — the state’s most prominent Democrat — walks a delicate line on the issue, with close political relationships with both Deal and President Barack Obama. The president has called for the U.S. to accept at least 10,000 Syrians over the next year.
The mayor sought to downplay the importance of his policy disagreement with Deal several times on Tuesday. “My approach is different from the governor’s, but that’s not uncommon. Politics isn’t about being in lock step. It’s about putting forward your view of how things should happen. I was asked a question and I gave an honest answer.”
Though Reed is breaking with Deal on this issue, he has also called for stronger vetting of refugees. Reed said the federal government’s review of Syrian refugees should be “significantly enhanced and changed.”
Asked what he’d say to Muslims, particularly in Georgia, who fear being targeted for acts of violence in response to the Islamic State-led Paris attacks, Reed said Atlanta remains a “welcoming city.”
“I do not tie events to a faith. I tie events to horrible people who are soulless and engaging in awful acts,” Reed said. “They need to be dealt with in the most severe fashion that you can deal with them. I believe they are terrorists.”
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.