Area legislators balk at refugees

WOODSTOCK – Del. Todd Gilbert, R-Woodstock, joined several of his GOP colleagues earlier this week in calling for a two-year halt to the acceptance of new Syrian refugees in the state.

Gilbert’s remarks, along with those of some elected officials from both parties, put him at odds with Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s intention to not oppose President Barack Obama’s plans to have the United States take in 10,000 refugees fleeing the Syrian civil war.

The shooting massacre in Paris last week has intensified fears that a similar attack could be launched in the United States by terrorists gaining entrance to the U.S. among the refugees.

The U.S. has received fewer than 2,000 Syrian refugees during the four-year civil war. The application process for each refugee can take up to 18 months, but Gilbert said public fears are showing up in phone calls to his office.

“We’re getting more calls about this than anything in a long time,” Gilbert said, adding, “the frequency and intensity of the calls are somewhat unprecedented.”

Gilbert said the message he is receiving from constituents is unmistakable.

“People are legitimately worried, especially in light of what happened in Paris over the weekend,” Gilbert said.

Individual states cannot unilaterally reject refugees attempting to settle within their borders, but Gilbert said state officials can choose to resist by diverting state money from refugee resettlement efforts.

U.S. Rep. Barbara Comstock, R-McLean, and U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Roanoke, have made similar comments regarding federal policies. Both voted for the bill that would impose tougher screening for Syrian refugees. Comstock co-sponsored the bill.

“There is a very real possibility that a terrorist, particularly one from or claiming to be from Syria or Iraq, will attempt to gain access to the U.S. as a refugee,” Goodlatte said in a written statement on Thursday.

Comstock said in a written statement earlier in the week that the Obama administration’s immigration “policy and practices do not inspire confidence that they could or would implement proper vetting procedures for Syrian refugees that ensure the safety of the American people. Therefore, the administration’s policies on Syrian refugees should be suspended and a full review of the program and its security risks should be undertaken along with aggressive congressional oversight.”

U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, a Democrat, said in a written statement that he continued to support resettlement of those Syrian refugees under the existing screening process.

“The fact is that refugees are currently subject to the absolute highest level of security checks of any category of traveler coming to the U.S. – with special criteria in place for those coming from Syria on top of the normal procedures,” Kaine said.

He added that a complete ban on Syrian refugees “is antithetical to our values – especially when the innocent civilians and families seeking in our country are fleeing the very violence and terror we saw in France and Lebanon that they experience every day in Syria.”

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or