Agencies, volunteers welcome Syrian refugees despite officials’ resistance

Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, left, and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, right, speak about the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the U.S., during their joint news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015. Abbott was in Washington with Cruz to support a bill Cruz has introduced in Congress banning any refugees from Iraq, Syria or other countries deemed to be controlled by a foreign terrorist organization. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, left, and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, right, speak about the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the U.S., during their joint news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015. Abbott was in Washington with Cruz to support a bill Cruz has introduced in Congress banning any refugees from Iraq, Syria or other countries deemed to be controlled by a foreign terrorist organization. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

DALLAS (AP) — Days before a family of six Syrian refugees was to arrive in Texas, the furniture and supplies for their apartment were ready.

Local volunteers collected mattresses, toys and bicycles for two children. Syrians already settled here were prepared to welcome them and help them get acquainted with their new home thousands of miles from their war-torn homeland.

Even as governors in some states say Syrian refugees aren’t welcome, resettlement agencies and volunteer groups with refugees continue welcoming them.

Refugees arrived this week in two cities in Texas and in Indiana, both states whose governors have said they reject Syrian refugees due to concerns they might pose a threat to public safety.

A family of six refugees was settled Monday night in Dallas, joining relatives living in the region already, and a couple and their four daughters arrived in Houston. They arrived as Texas was mounting the most aggressive campaign of any state against Syrian refugees.

And a couple and their two young children arrived in Indiana at the invitation of the Roman Catholic archdiocese in Indianapolis, which went on with plans to resettle them despite calls from Gov. Mike Pence not to do so.

The family in Dallas arrived to a furnished apartment and a stocked refrigerator, said Lucy Carrigan, spokeswoman for the International Rescue Committee. An IRC caseworker was expected to meet with them shortly after their arrival and map out their next steps, from enrolling children in school to how to use local mass transit, said Donna Duvin, executive director of the IRC’s Dallas office.

Duvin said her agency’s work with the Syrian family was not greatly different from how it regularly helps refugees, though heavy media attention has followed this family’s arrival. The agency, she said, wanted to “as much as possible, create a sense of a normal life” for this family and all refugees.

“Families who have been separated, especially by the trauma of war, are desperate to have their families with them here so they can really feel like they can get on with their lives,” Duvin said.

The Dallas area has several apartment complexes filled with new arrivals from around the world. Volunteers who regularly work with refugees say they’ve seen an uptick in donations and offers to help in the wake of more attention being paid to Syrian refugees.

“We’ve been overwhelmed with messages of support, messages to be shared with the families, and all the Syrians, and even refugees from other countries who’ve made their home in Dallas,” said Anne Marie Weiss-Armush, president of DFW International Community Alliance, who is working with the newly arrived family.

The archdiocese in Indianapolis said the four Syrians who arrived there had fled Syria three years ago and underwent two years of security checks before being allowed to enter the U.S.

Archbishop Joseph Tobin said he considered Pence’s recent request to not bring the family to Indiana until Congress had approved new legislation regarding immigrants and refugees. But he said he welcomed them anyway because helping refugees “is an essential part of our identity as Catholic Christians.”

Pence and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott were among more than two dozen Republican governors who said they would refuse any new Syrian refugees following the deadly Nov. 13 Paris attacks, which have been linked to the Islamic State group operating in Syria.

Pence said Tuesday that he still supports a ban on Syrian refugees, but that he won’t try to deny Medicaid, food stamps or other social services to Syrians who arrive in Indiana.

Abbott was in Washington with U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, to support a Cruz bill that would allow governors to refuse refugees they deem to be a security threat.

“I will continue to do everything that I can to ensure that refugees from Syria who could pose a danger to the people of the state of Texas will not be allowed to relocate into the state of Texas,” Abbott said.

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