Why is the FBI questioning Syrian refugees in Newark?

Why is the FBI questioning Syrian refugees in Newark?
on February 18, 2017 at 1:36 PM, updated February 18, 2017 at 3:51 PM
 WASHINGTON — Newly arrived Syrian refugees in New Jersey are getting visits from FBI officials, part of the Newark office’s efforts to reach out to ethnic communities.

“It’s a very diverse state,” said Timothy Gallagher, special agent in charge in Newark.

Gallagher said the program has been going for years, part of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Newark office’ efforts to connect with the communities it serves, and perhaps find a pool of diverse applicants who want to join the agency.

“We are looking to establish a two-way dialog,” Gallagher said. “That’s what it’s all about.”

N.J. Muslims meet with federal lawmakers

N.J. Muslims meet with federal lawmakers

Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman arranged a meeting between the state’s congressional delegation and N.J.’s Muslim community.

The FBI’s efforts drew attention Thursday from two House Democrats from New Jersey, Reps. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-9th Dist.) and Frank Pallone Jr. (D-6th Dist.).

They expressed concern that the outreach “will be misinterpreted by a vulnerable population that was recently resettled and come from a country where they rightly feared their own secret police,” they said in a letter to Gallagher.

“At a time when refugees have wrongly been cast as a suspect group, we fear these outreach efforts have had a negative impact and contradict the goal of law enforcement: to enforce the law in a way that ensures our residents feel safe and secure in their communities,” they wrote.

The lawmakers said the FBI first should work with community organizations that help resettle the refugees.

Gallagher said he could not address the letter, saying that it would be answered by FBI headquarters in Washington.

What he could say was that the efforts have been going on long before the recent influx of Syrian refugees in order to enlist help from the state’s ethnic communities.

“If they see something, we should know they won’t hesitate to pick up the phone,” Gallagher said. “They’re more apt to come forward if there’s a relationship in place.”

At a meeting in Washington earlier this week, representatives of Muslim communities in New Jersey told members of the state’s congressional delegation that they were being singled out.

President Donald Trump campaigned on a platform of banning Muslims from entering the U.S. and his recent executive order put a temporary hold on admitting refugees, including those from Syria, and banned visitors from seven Muslim countries, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Libya and Somalia.

Almost every member of the state’s congressional delegation, both Democrats and Republicans, have criticized the order, now being blocked by a federal appeals court.

Jonathan D. Salant may be reached at jsalant@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @JDSalant. Find NJ.com Politics on Facebook.

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