Emotions are calming slowly in Craven County, where in February the Board of County Commissioners passed a nonbinding resolution not to accept refugees from Syria, Iraq, and other terror-plagued nations. The action splintered the community as concerns of public safety were met with heated allegations of bigotry, one New Bern resident says.

“It was a big hubbub. It was a lot of angry people, I guess on both sides,” said Ann Bowman, who spearheaded the grass-roots initiative and town hall meetings that led to the measure being passed. “I think it’s kind of starting to go away, but there’s some angry feelings.”

The resolution cited concerns over weak refugee vetting protocols. It stated, in part, the board “opposes the relocation of any refugee from countries that have significant territory controlled by an organization designated by the State Department to be a foreign terrorist organization, including but not limited to Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen.”

Since then, the Carteret County Board of Commissioners passed a similar resolution.

“I think the federal government has exacerbated concerns and fears, and I give them a failing grade on managing this program,” James Carafano of the Heritage Foundation told Carolina Journal.

“The federal government did a very bad job of reaching out to state and local governments, and establishing a dialogue, and talking about this, which I think was just unconscionable,” said Carafano, a historian, national security expert, and retired Army lieutenant colonel.

Bowman’s concern was sparked by a Burmese refugee in New Bern who in March 2015 hacked three children to death with a machete. She began to wonder how safe the screening process was, and whether Islamist jihadists posing as Syrian refugees might be resettled in New Bern.

She was particularly worried about the lack of information from the federal government.

“At least let us know what’s going on,” Bowman said. “It’s part of the whole frustration with government is that they do things not in our best interest, and we feel like we have no say in anything. … It makes me angry.”

By raising those concerns, critics targeted her and her supporters as xenophobes, and Islamophobes. “Of course they labeled us as being fear-mongering,” Bowman said.

“The administration, I think, has fed this myth that, ‘Well if you have problems with this you’re a racist and a xenophobe,’” Carafano said. Rather than sitting down with state and local governments to address complaints, the administration targets those questioning the program with insults, he said.

The federal response to concerns raised over the Syrian and Iraqi refugee crisis is consistent with how the Obama administration has dealt with other immigration issues, and how it handled the 2014-15 Ebola scare, he said.

“You had a lot of state and local concerns, and you had the federal government just saying basically, ‘Shut up. Leave me alone. Don’t bother me,’” Carafano said.

“I think it’s completely inexcusable” that the federal government has kept Gov. Pat McCrory and his public safety personnel in the dark about Syrian and Iraqi refugee resettlements in North Carolina, he said.

“The fact that state and local officials can’t get answers to very basic questions like this, I mean, that’s ridiculous,” Carafano said.

“We have 100 joint terrorism task forces all over the country, federal, state, and local. Why can’t we get information? Why do we have every state create a homeland security advisor if the federal government isn’t going to engage with the state homeland security advisor, and give them answers to very simple, basic questions?” he said. “It’s nuts.”

Carafano said “legitimate questions” are being raised over the effectiveness of the refugee screening process, but he believes it is working.

“Can we take refugees out of a combat zone like that relatively safely, and the answer is, sure we can. We’ve actually done it before, and we’ve been doing it for years” in Afghanistan and Iraq, Carafano said.

Still, he acknowledged that some refugees have become radicalized since resettling here. Others committed criminal acts in their home countries that went undetected when being vetted, and in some cases, “because of political pressure, people were shortchanging the screening process because it was more important to move people than to do the screening process right, and you want assurances that that won’t happen.”

The bigger argument against the refugee influx is that accepting a high volume of refugees “has nothing to do with solving the problem in Syria,” he said.

“Taking refugees actually makes the problem worse because the guys who are fighting, it just encourages them to drive more people out,” Carafano said. “And what we know about refugees is the people who leave are normally the people who have more money, and more education, and everything else. So you’re actually taking the people out who are going to rebuild the country afterwards.”

Once they leave their homeland, refugees have a higher degree of difficulty repatriating after the war ends, Carafano said.

Also, refugees are more at risk when they’re traveling, so by seeking to accept more of them “you’re actually encouraging people to get on a refugee trail, put themselves at risk of rape, murder, being robbed, and everything else,” he said.

The best solution is to keep refugees as close to their home area as possible, and keep them safe.

America’s refugee program “wasn’t designed for mass migration. It was designed to take care of truly needy cases that were defined by law,” Carafano said.

“So it wasn’t designed to solve Syria, it wasn’t designed to take millions of people,” he said. “It was designed for truly humanitarian gestures on the part of the United States for people who are at risk of death because of persecution, because of politics, religion, something else, not because the economy’s bad. Not even because they’re in a war zone.”

Bowman said she continues to press state officials and a private refugee relocation agency working in her region to get more information about resettlement numbers and placements in Craven County, but is dissatisfied with the lack of information she receives.