LAST FALL, MAYORS of 18 U.S. cities sent a letter to President Obama, promising to welcome Syrian refugees with open arms. Atop the list was Ed Pawlowski, the mayor of Allentown, Pennsylvania’s third largest city.
Pawlowski said his evangelical Christian faith—and America’s founding ideals—shaped his decision. “We like to say that America was built on Judeo-Christian principles,” he told Sojourners. “Then let’s follow our Judeo-Christian principles, which tell us to welcome the stranger because we were once strangers ourselves.” So far, about 10 Syrian refugee families have come to Allentown in the past year. More are expected.
There’s been some pushback from older Syrian immigrants in the community. Allentown is home to about 5,000 Syrians, many of them Christians who fled persecution in the past. Most of the new arrivals are Muslim.
Aziz Wehbey, head of the local American Amarian Syrian Charity Society, told CBS News he had concerns about the background checks on the new arrivals. “We need to know who we are welcoming in our society,” said Wehbey.
Another local Syrian charity, the Syrian Arab American Charity Association, has collected donations of food, furniture, and clothing for the refugees. So has St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church, where many Syrian immigrants worship.
Pawlowksi has spent a great deal of time talking to residents about their fears, such as concerns that the area will become “overrun” with refugees. He stressed that only a few families are coming to Allentown. They’ve lost everything, the mayor said, and need help: “We can handle this.”