Lawrence walks back anti-refugee comments, makes excuses

Jay Lawrence
Rep. Jay Lawrence, R-Scottsdale. Photo by Gage Skidmore | Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

In interviews with several Valley journalists following Arizona Mirror reporting on leaked audio of him disparaging refugees, Rep. Jay Lawrence of Scottsdale backed down from his comments that refugees “take from us,” which he admitted some might view as bigoted. 

Lawrence told Fox 10 he “absolutely misspoke.” He said to CBS 5 News/3TV that his comments were “taken out of context.” And he stated to KTAR he was “taunted by someone” to say he is OK with being called a bigot, something that was “a mistake” and “was dumb on my part.”   

But those explanations are contradicted by what happened at the Fountain Hills AZ Tea Party meeting on Jan. 16. He wasn’t goaded or hectored into making the comments, and they weren’t made in some larger context. Instead, they were a response to a simple question: “What is your feeling on refugee resettlement?” 

Lawrence swiftly responded, “I don’t want refugees settled here. They will take from us, they will make for lower wages for us, they will make for more expense in our schools, more expense in our emergency rooms.

“I will do all I can, as a legislator, to not accept a refugee population in the state of Arizona. Call me a bigot, whatever you want, I just think it’s best for the state of Arizona.”

On KTAR and Fox 10, Lawrence said his problem with the refugee resettlement program is that he doesn’t trust the adults and children fleeing war and persecution in their home countries are properly vetter before they’re admitted in the U.S.

“I want the refugees checked. I want to know that the refugees that are coming in here have been properly vetted,” he told KTAR’s The Gaydos and Chad Show. “You know that the people coming in at the borders, there are many among them that mean us harm, and the federal government is not my most trustworthy accomplice.

“I have no problem with refugees as long as there is a legality to them. I have a problem with illegal (sic) coming into the country.”

Except refugees don’t apply for admission to the U.S. at the country’s borders. They are approved for admission while outside the U.S. Refugees are vetted by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the U.S. Department of State. The Department of Homeland Security, through its agencies Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Citizenship Services, also vet refugees before they are admitted into the country. This process can take several years. 

Lawrence said to a Fox 10 journalist that he was skeptical of this process.

“I don’t know I trust the federal government to send us all wonderful refugees who are charming, and they are all legal and wonderful,” he said. “And I don’t know that that’s true. I don’t know there aren’t spies among them that there aren’t people that mean us harm.”

Note: A previous version of this story referenced comments Lawrence made to ABC 15. He made the comments to CBS 5 News/3TV, not ABC 15.

Laura Gómez
Reporter Laura Gómez Rodriguez covers state politics and immigration for the Arizona Mirror. She worked for The Arizona Republic and La Voz Arizona for four years, covering city government, economic development, immigration, politics and trade. In 2017, Laura traveled the length of the U.S.-Mexico border for “The Wall,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning project produced by The Arizona Republic and USA Today Network. She was named Best Investigative Reporter by Phoenix Magazine in its 2018 newspaper category and has been honored by the Arizona Press Club for Spanish-language news and feature reporting. She is a native of Bogotá, Colombia and lived in Puerto Rico and Boston before moving to Phoenix in 2014. Catch her researching travel deals, feasting on mariscos or playing soccer.