- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 24, 2015

BURLINGTON, Vt. (AP) - Gov. Peter Shumlin visited an English-language class of refugees from war-torn countries on Tuesday to thank them for making Vermont their home and to highlight his support for accepting Syrian refugees into the United States.

“What made America great, and what makes Vermont great, is people like you, (who) left terrible circumstances at home - war, the threat of death, just horrid, horrid circumstances - and got through the very difficult refugee resettlement program,” Shumlin told the group.

He called them “not people that we should fear, but people that we embrace as members of the Vermont family.”

Shumlin, who announced in June he won’t seek a fourth two-year term in 2016, has been outspoken in recent days in his support for Syrian refugees. Individual states do not have legal authority to block refugee placement, according to a 1980 law, but many governors have expressed concern since last week’s terror attacks in Paris.

A Syrian passport was found near one of the suicide bombers, though it has not been authenticated.

Shumlin got a warm welcome from the more than a dozen students from countries as far-flung as the Congo in Africa and Bhutan in Asia. Before his arrival, instructor Yvette Rainville had been teaching the students that a sign with a P and a diagonal line through it means “no parking.”

The students appeared impressed to meet a senior official like the governor.

“In places like where we were, it’s very hard to meet people of such stature coming and meeting and just talking to people, shaking hands and hugging. It’s so different,” said Bidur Dahal, 40, who fled Bhutan and spent 19 years in a refugee camp in neighboring Nepal before coming to the U.S. in 2011.

Afterward, Shumlin called resistance by many governors “shameful.”

“Listen, let’s be honest about this. There is a certain amount of bigotry and hatred associated with the message (that) we’re not going to let you in here,” Shumlin said. “The governors who are saying no to the Syrian refugees, who are leaving horrid, horrid circumstances, are really being heartless at a time when we should have big hearts,” the Democratic governor said.

Shumlin said his views were informed in part by his own family history.

“My great-grandparents on my dad’s side left the Ukraine when things were really, really horrid” for Jews there. “And I don’t think there’s very many of us who can’t think of family members or neighbors or friends who haven’t faced the same circumstances that the Syrians now are facing.”

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