One week after a Bozeman-based immigration speaker addressed a crowd of hundreds at a Kalispell hotel about national security concerns stemming from the resettlement of refugees in the United States, human rights advocates convened one block away for a counter-rally to promote relocation opportunities for refugees in Montana.
The March 1 rally at Depot Park in Kalispell, which was held after the Beacon went to print, comes on the heels of an event at the Red Lion Hotel organized by the Flathead Valley chapter of Act for America, which co-founder Caroline Solomon says is “devoted to promoting national security and defeating terrorism.”
The event drew 460 attendees who listened to a presentation by Paul Nachmann, a founding member of Montanans for Immigration Law Enforcement, who said the state should be cautious of facilitating refugee resettlement, which he said drains taxpayers’ dollars and compromises national security.
An estimated 9 million Syrians have fled their homes since the outbreak of civil war in March 2011, according to the website Syrianrefugees.eu.
According to PolitiFact, 1,800 refugees have been admitted to the United States since the civil war in Syria began, with placements in about 35 states.
Germany has accepted 38,500 Syrian refugees and Canada has accepted 36,300 since 2013.
Next year, the Obama administration plans to increase the number of admitted Syrian refugees to at least 10,000, PolitiFact reported.
Caroline Solomon, Flathead Valley Act for America chapter president, said the high turnout at the Kalispell event, which had to be moved to accommodate the crowd, underscored the high level of concern over refugee resettlement.
“People are concerned and afraid about bringing in refugees because the CIA and Department of Homeland Security say they cannot be vetted,” Solomon said. “ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) says it will use this resettlement loophole to bring terrorists into our communities, and that is the underlying reason that people are showing up.”
Will Randall, of Kalispell, is a board chair of the Montana Human Rights Network, and said the March 1 rally aimed to challenge the anti-refugee rhetoric and support relocation efforts.
“There is so much fear and misinformation out there that is just unwarranted,” Randall said. “There is a lack of support to justify this level of fear-mongering, and we want to promote a generous, compassionate attitude and a better understanding of the issue.”
Similar events took place across the state on March 1, including in Helena, Bozeman, Billings, Great Falls, and Missoula.
“These events are meant to show the strength of our collective values of compassion and inclusiveness, and to begin to move the conversation away from the rhetoric of fear and hate that is particularly loud in our valley,” Randall said.
The Southern Policy Law Center designated Act for America a hate group in 2016, describing the group’s views as Islamophobic, while the group characterizes itself as “anti-radical Islam,” not anti-Islam.
Solomon, who was born and raised in Belgium, said she is not opposed to immigration, and resents the organization being labeled a hate group.
“We are not against immigration, and we are not against helping the poor,” she said. “We are against bringing in people who want to hurt us, who don’t’ want to assimilate and who want to damage our constitution. If that makes us a hate group then that is a very sad day in America.”
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