This story has been updated.
POUGHKEEPSIE, N.Y. -- A refugee resettlement office in Poughkeepsie is the latest back and forth issue in the race for the 18th congressional district.
Phil Oliva, the Republican nominee who is opposing Democratic incumbent Sean Patrick Maloney, held a press conference in Poughkeepsie Monday about Church World Service's announcement last week that they were opening an office to help Syrian refugees with employment, health, housing services and assimilation.
“No one knew about this. I learned about it after several residents reached out to me," Oliva said. "This looks and feels like another example of the federal government imposing its will on local communities."
Church World Service is one of nine refugee resettlement agencies in the US.
Oliva expressed concern about the refugees being properly vetted and that some might be ISIS fighters and has called for a pause on resettling refugees until an enhanced vetting system is put in place. He wants to the United States and other nations to build a safe zone within Syria where refugees can settle.
“I have great compassion for any people fleeing violence, but that compassion shouldn’t supersede caution and security. It shouldn’t supersede important issues we are dealing with in our community,” said Oliva.
Oliva criticized Maloney for not being out front on the issue, while Maloney, who is running for a third term said he has supported a proposal to ensure refugees are fully vetted.
"The program in Poughkeepsie is being run by a humanitarian organization made up of Christian groups that help refugees assimilate after waiting years to go through the vetting process," Maloney said. "Phil is exploiting these victims of war and the Christian charities helping them for political gain - that is wrong."
Christina Levin, a spokeswoman for Church World Service's said the response from the Poughkeepsie community has been positive. The organization helps refugees from all over the world, not just Syria.
"CWS stands encouraged by the widespread community support we’ve received about the opening of our new refugee resettlement office in Poughkeepsie," Levin said. "We look forward to continuing to work with all of our local partners as we prepare to welcome refugees to Dutchess County and help them build their lives anew here in the U.S.”
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