HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The day after he touched off a furor over Syrian refugees in Hawaii, Gov. David Ige said he doesn't believe the state will see a huge influx from the war-torn country.
"I suppose in hindsight I should probably be more thoughtful about my statements," he said during a news conference Tuesday.
He added the chances of Syrian refugees actually coming to the islands is low.
"In the last decade, zero have come. How many might show up in the next month? I would guess it would be zero. But whatever refugees are fleeing from oppression and abuse anywhere in the world, we will assimilate them."
More than two dozen governors -- most of them Republican -- have come out in opposition to relocating Syrian refugees to their states. Ige's decision was so unpopular that one group organized an online petition opposing it. The Change.org petition gathered more than 5,000 signatures in about a day.
The governor said his office was inundated by about 500 telephone calls, many of them against the measure.
"I think we have a big enough problem with the homeless we have here that I don't even know where anyone else would go," said Patty Birdsall of Kailua.
Michael O'Connor, also of Kailua, added: "You feel empathy for these people but on the other hand you don't want somebody shooting up Honolulu, you know."
But many said they support Ige and cited Hawaii's long history of accepting refugees and immigrants.
"I'm all for it. Like he said, Hawaii is open," said Kailua resident Scott Draper. "These states are denying entry because they're freaked out about the Paris situation. I don't see it that way,"
Kailua resident Adam Theofanis added: "On a humanitarian level, I think it's the right thing to do but due to the light of the what's been happening around the world, we have to be extremely careful and they have to be very well screened," he said.
Immigration attorney Clare Hanusz says it's the federal government -- and the not the states -- that decides where refugees go in the United States. She said it's a process that's carefully vetted and can take up to two years.
"The governors who are saying they're not going to accept any refugees are really playing on fear and in my opinion are trying to score quick and cheap political points," she said.
Hanusz noted that the federal government tend to places Syrian refugees with host families usually in communities of other Syrians. making Hawaii an unlikely destination
"Practically speaking I doubt if we're going to see many Syrians in Hawaii," she said.