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NY Congressional Candidate Has Questions About A Refugee Resettlement Office

WAMC, Allison Dunne

The Republican candidate for New York’s 18th congressional district was in Poughkeepsie Monday. Phil Oliva is expressing concern over news that a refugee resettlement office will open in the city.

Phil Oliva, who’s running against two-term Democratic Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney, questioned why he had to learn from a City of Poughkeepsie resident that Church World Service would be opening an office in Poughkeepsie.

“We’re not beating up on Syrian refugees. And I, and the ones that are here, I would treat them like a neighbor,” Oliva says. “It’s not them that we’re mad at.”

Oliva, standing outside the post office on Mansion Street, directed his anger elsewhere.

“My anger is directed at our federal officials. Why didn’t they tell us about this and they just think they can slip it in,” says Oliva.  “And why Poughkeepsie? Why the City of Poughkeepsie?”

Plus, he says:

“Church World Service is a vendor of the federal government. The federal government, the Department of State knows this. They’re doing this, and they didn’t tell anybody locally. That’s a major, major problem,” Oliva says. “And, as a congressman, I would raise holy hell in Washington because I’m the federal representative. If I don’t know about this, I’m either not doing my job, and if somebody’s trying to slip one past me, then there’s going to be a price to pay and I’d be demanding answers now, not just sending Carol and others to go ask this one and ask that one. The buck would stop with me.”

He refers to Carol Simonetty, the resident who first contacted him with the news. Simonetty says she phoned Congressman Maloney’s office and was told the following.

“The only answer they were able to give me was that the people would go through medical services and be, not bring any kind of diseases. That’s unacceptable,” Simonetty says. “If you’re going to have a major group of people coming in from another country and, as you [Oliva] said, not everybody has our best interest in mind, you have to be sure you know what you’re doing, who you’re bringing in. and communicate it properly.”

In a statement, Maloney says, "We agree that we need to make sure these folks are safe - that's why I supported a proposal to ensure they are fully vetted. The program in Poughkeepsie is being run by a humanitarian organization made up of Christian groups that help refugees assimilate after waiting years to go through the vetting process, and Phil is exploiting these victims of war and the Christian charities helping them for political gain - that is wrong.”

Church World Service announced earlier in October that in continuing to address the demands of the largest displacement crisis in recorded history, the global humanitarian organization and one of nine U.S. resettlement agencies will open a refugee resettlement office in Poughkeepsie. An opening is planned for roughly early next year, but there is no location yet. Already, CWS resettles refugees in three New York locations: Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse.

A Church World Service spokeswoman, in a statement says, “Poughkeepsie has shown us an overwhelmingly positive and welcoming response, reflecting our nation’s longstanding values of hospitality. CWS stands encouraged by the widespread community support we’ve received about the opening of our new refugee resettlement office in Poughkeepsie. We look forward to continuing to work with all of our local partners as we prepare to welcome refugees to Dutchess County and help them build their lives anew here in the U.S.” 

Echoing concerns that have been brought up in a similar debate in Rutland, Vermont, Oliva says there are too many unanswered questions at the moment.

“Where’s this office going to be?  How many refugees are we speaking of? Are they going to be… They’re coming through Poughkeepsie and Dutchess County, are they going to stay here?” asks Oliva. “Who pays for it? How many?”

Oliva said he would effect change along two paths. One is pausing the refugee resettlement program until an enhanced vetting system is put in place. In addition, says Oliva:

“I believe we should actually, the United States should lead a multinational coalition of nations to build a safe zone within Syria to, kind of like we did in Kurdistan after the first Gulf War,” Oliva says.

Church World Service will hold an information session about the new Poughkeepsie office Thursday, November 10. at the Adriance Memorial Library.

In 2015 President Obama directed his administration to increase the number of Syrian refugees provided safe haven in the United States in response to the millions fleeing violence. In August, Obama’s goal of admitting 10,000 Syrian refugees for the fiscal year was reached, a six-fold increase from the prior year.  

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