The city of Lancaster’s been a haven for refugees for decades, and there’s been little, if any, public animosity about it. Until this weekend.
Many of Lancaster’s 70,000 residents take pride in the fact that their city resettled more refugees than 20 individual states last year.
But this weekend, people came from elsewhere all over Pennsylvania to protest aiding some asylum seekers.
About 250 people demonstrated support for refugees outside resettlement agency Church World Service in Lancaster.
Resident Beth Kuttab was one of them.
“For people fleeing persecution, for all these years, Lancaster’s been a haven. We want to keep that tradition going,” she said.
About 40 people on the other side of the street protested accepting refugees.
“It’s just the latest way of destroying this country, bringing in people who don’t understand our way of life,” said Bill Reil. “And who’s really suffering? People in this country.”
Reil, who drove an hour from Chester County for the event, and some standing with him said they think limited federal government resources should go to cash-strapped agencies helping vulnerable U.S. citizens such as veterans experiencing homelessness.
They also said they fear lapses in the screening process for asylum seekers could inadvertently admit terrorists. They say the U.S. should only support refugees in areas adjacent to their countries of origin.
“A lot of people are concerned about the rising anti-Muslim sentiment. There’s fear in the community not only here, but elsewhere,” Kuttab said.
There were a couple of brief shouting matches between dueling demonstrators, but no arrests, physical altercations or major traffic disruptions during the three hour events.