By Rep. Darrio Melton
This week, our hearts went out to the victims of tragedies in Paris and Beirut. Americans stood in solidarity with the victims of these horrific attacks and committed ourselves to continue working to prevent these attacks at home and abroad.
At the heart of the conversation about dealing with terrorism, extremism, and ISIS has been a conversation about Syrian refugees and their role in our nation.
Many have argued it’s time to shut down our borders to prevent bad people from coming in with those looking for safety, while others have quoted the lines etched onto the Statue of Liberty: “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
Regardless of how you personally feel about Syrian refugees or immigrants in general, we can all agree that we don’t want to see an attack occur on American soil, particularly here in Alabama.
In this effort, Governor Bentley has vowed to close Alabama’s borders to Syrian refugees and block any attempts to relocate refugees into Alabama through the federal placement programs.
Unfortunately, it seems to me the Governor’s attempt to keep our state safe is merely a half-hearted, knee-jerk reaction to a hot button political issue.
The truth is that the federal placement program isn’t bringing Syrian refugees into Alabama en masse, and it never will. A processing center in Mobile was approved by the State Department, yet they have not placed a single refugee within Alabama borders. A similar facility in Louisiana has only processed 14 refugees.
Typically, the state has a system in place to respond to large-scale disasters: the National Guard. They are at the discretion of the Governor and can be used to secure any situation from natural disasters to riots.
While our Governor is saying he wants to keep us safe, he’s allowing our National Guard Armories to close or consolidate, meaning our first-responders are less capable of managing a large-scale disaster on Alabama soil.
Six of Alabama’s armories are scheduled to close due to funding shortfalls, and another 15 are scheduled to be closed and consolidated.
While these armories usually require a 50/50 funding split between federal and state dollars, Alabama has only been willing to fund $16 million to match the $126 million in federal funds to support our National Guard.
I’ve said it before, and I will continue to say it: our budgets are signs of our priorities.
If our priority is to keep our state and our people safe from harm, we have to put our money where our mouths are. Whether it’s a hurricane or a security threat, our National Guard is critical to our safety, and I would urge the Governor to work towards providing the state with this critical funding.
Rep. Darrio Melton is a Democrat from Selma. He was elected to the Alabama House of Representatives in 2010 and currently serves as Chair of the House Democratic Caucus.