Gov. David Ige’s office has been flooded with over 500 phone calls and about 300 emails from constituents in response to his statements Monday that Hawaii would welcome refugees fleeing a brutal civil war in Syria.
The governor said some of the comments were supportive of his position but he acknowledged during a press conference Tuesday afternoon that others raised concerns about public safety and how Hawaii would accommodate an influx of refugees in light of the state’s escalating homeless problem.
“I suppose in hindsight I should probably be more thoughtful about my statements. I understand that there are concerns about the safety of our communities,” he told reporters. “I was horrified by the actions taken in France last week. And I think a lot about whether that can happen in Hawaii or anywhere in the Untied States or the world for that matter. I do understand that. But I also understand what happens when a community for whatever reason is discriminated against irresponsibly or with no basis.”
Ige recalled the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.
Ige stressed that the safety of Hawaii’s population is his top priority, as is addressing the state’s homeless problem.
“There is a concern that we should take care of our own before we help others and we are,” he said. “All of our resources and efforts are really focused on the challenges here in our community. We happen to be a member of the United State and that refugee program.”
Hawaii hasn’t received any Syrians refugees and Ige said that he didn’t expect any to be relocated to Hawaii anytime soon. The federal government oversees the relocation of refugees.
Most of the approximately 2,000 refugees who have been sent to the United States have been placed in areas on the mainland where they have family or there is a healthy job market and low housing prices.
Ige’s comments on Monday were in response to national media polls on the position of governors throughout the United States. More than half of the country’s governors have come out against allowing Syrian refugees into their states, even though such authority rests with the federal government.
Republican opposition on the mainland has centered on national security issues after authorities said that one of the Paris bombers is believed to have entered France through a recent wave of refugees. But in Hawaii, opposition to Ige’s position has centered more on the state’s ongoing homeless issue.
Hundreds of comments have been posted on social media criticizing the governor for welcoming Syrian refugees when Hawaii is still grappling with thousands of homeless people.
The Hawaii Republican Party also released a statement on Tuesday criticizing the governor’s position.
“We feel sympathy for the refugees coming from Syria and the Middle East, but Hawaii is still grappling with a homeless crisis that has yet to be resolved by our local politicians,” Hawaii GOP Chairman Fritz Rohlfing said in a statement. “Gov. Ige and Hawaii Democrats are simply wrong to agree to further burden our community’s already over-taxed social safety net with Syrian refugees we can’t handle at this time.”