BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB)- Buffalo leaders are speaking out in support of refugees in Western New York, voicing opposition to the Trump administration’s stance on immigration.
“No matter what others will say, as long as I am executive we will continue to welcome to our community immigrants as the newest members of the melting pot we call America,” said Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz on Twitter. “As a result, we will become a better and stronger community because of their vitality, entrepreneurial spirit, and most of all diversity.”
Poloncarz sent the tweets on Nov. 19, and included data showing 11,647 immigrants have resettled in Erie County since 2008.
New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo echoed his statements the following day on Nov. 20 at a speech at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem.
“We will stand up for the rights of immigrants because we believe our diversity is a strength, not a weakness,” said Gov. Cuomo. “If there is a move to deport immigrants then I say start with me. I am a son of immigrants.”
President-elect Donald Trump’s incoming chief of staff Reince Priebus told CNN on Nov. 20 that citizens of countries suspected of harboring or training terrorists will be temporarily banned from immigrating to the United States.
“President-elect Trump’s opinion is there are some people within that particular religion that we do fear,” said Priebus on CNN’s State of the Union. “But he also has made it very clear that we don’t believe in religious tests and we aren’t blanketly judging an entire religion, in fact we will try to pinpoint the problems and temporarily suspend those areas from coming into the United States until a better vetting system is in place. That’s what we’re going to do, that’s what the President-elect believes.”
Trump has also met with Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach who outlined a plan to Trump calling for an end to the flow of Syrian refugees into the United States.
It has the Buffalo Syrian community concerned.
Akram Shibly has documented the flight of Syrian refugees from their homes as a film director. He was born in the U.S. but his parents came to Buffalo from Syria in the 90’s.
Shibly works closely with refugees helping them get adjusted to life in America.
“The morning after Donald Trump was elected, I actually picked up a refugee family to take them to the doctor and I told them ‘Did you hear the news? Donald Trump is going to be the next president of the United States’, they looked at me and said ‘Does that mean we’re getting sent back?’” said Shibly.
He told News 4 the Trump administration’s talks about mass deportations and religious profiling has created fear.
“I hope when Donald Trump enters the oval office, he realizes there are real lives at stake here,” said Shibly. “They’re not just a statistic or a number, they’re real people, mothers, daughters, families that are fleeing from horrifying circumstances and they want to come here and they want to contribute.”
Buffalo officials told News 4 there are more than 20,000 refugees living in the city. In the last year, about 250 refugees arrived to Buffalo from Syria.
“We are hopeful that the new presidential administration will continue the process in the United States of being welcoming to immigrants and refugees,” said Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown.
News 4 asked Mayor Brown if he wants to make Buffalo a sanctuary city. The term generally refers to a city that doesn’t cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or a city that bars its employees from inquiring about a person’s immigration status. It creates a safe haven for immigrants.
“We feel like we are beyond a sanctuary city,” said Brown.
He said Buffalo Police do not ask people about their immigration status. There is no rule requiring police to ask about a person’s immigration status in the U.S.
Mayor Brown also called Buffalo a “welcoming city” pointing out efforts by police to connect refugees with translators and the city’s summer employment program for immigrants.
“We are very proud of being an open and welcoming community,” said Brown.
Shibly said on a day to day basis he feels like Americans want to be welcoming, despite the political rhetoric.
“Some of the rhetoric has made me feel a little alienated but when I turn off the TV, when I turn off social media and I go out into my neighborhoods, I realize we’re a nation of good neighbors, we’re a nation of friends, of diverse people that can get along,” said Shibly.