Responding to one of the worst humanitarian crises since World War II, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted Dec. 8 to reaffirm the county’s commitment to hospitality while also ensuring the safety of its own residents.
Acting on a motion by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sheila Kuehl, the board declared it would honor the United States’ federal immigration policies and welcome refugees fleeing persecution in their home countries to adjust to a new, peaceful and productive life in Los Angeles County.
The vote was 3-1, with Supervisor Mike Antonovich dissenting and Supervisor Don Knabe abstaining.
The board also approved sending a letter to President Barack Obama expressing support of federal efforts to help Syrians fleeing violence and oppression.
The motion noted 12 million people – almost half of Syria’s population – have been displaced by terrorism, religious persecution, war and conflict. This includes about 7.6 million displaced within Syria’s borders. The rest have been forced to flee to other countries. According to the State Department, seven out of every 10 Syrian refugees are women and children.
In their motion, Ridley-Thomas and Kuehl emphasized that the county has “a strong tradition of not tolerating hate crimes, racial antagonism, stereotypes, prejudice and bias, especially in the wake of fear.” They noted that the board commemorated the Armenian genocide earlier this year and in 2012 revoked a 1942 resolution that supported the internment of Japanese Americans.
They also stressed every precaution would be taken to ensure the safety of county residents: “Refugees are subject to the strictest form of security screening of any class of traveler to the U.S. before they are allowed to enter, and are subject to extensive background, security and health checks. The process is slow and long and is considered the toughest way to legally enter the United States.”
They added, “We can protect public safety and honor our best American traditions at the same time.”
Antonovich disagreed, saying that while he sympathized with the refugees’ plight, “We don’t have the vetting process in place … The consequences are too great.”
Among those speaking in favor of the motion was Robin Toma, executive director of the L.A. County Human Relations Commission, whose mother was interned during World War II.
“The tragedy in San Bernardino has struck all of us in a very hard way,” Toma said. “It raises the level of fear, anger, emotions. The idea of making policy to discriminate against a group because of the nation they came from, because of their ethnicity, because of their religion, is anathema to our Constitution and to the values of this county.”
The commission issues an annual report on hate crimes in the county motivated by race, ethnicity, national origin, religion and sexual orientation.