Experts Say States Lack Legal Authority to Block Refugees
Several U.S. governors are threatening to halt efforts to allow Syrian refugees into their states in the aftermath of the coordinated attacks in Paris
JEFF KAROUB and ALICIA A. CALDWELL
DETROIT (AP) -- Several U.S. governors are threatening to halt efforts to allow Syrian refugees into their states in the aftermath of the coordinated attacks in Paris, though an immigration expert says they have no legal authority to do so.
The governors are responding to heightened concerns that terrorists might use the refugees as cover to sneak across borders. Authorities said a Syrian passport was found near one of the attackers, and the Paris prosecutors' office says fingerprints from the attacker match those of someone who passed through Greece in October.
Millions of Syrians have fled to neighboring Middle Eastern countries and Europe, and President Barack Obama's administration has pledged to accept about 10,000 Syrian refugees in the next 12 months. The U.S. State Department said the refugees would be spread across the country. Republican presidential candidates have criticized the plan.
In response to the calls from governors to prevent Syrian refugees from coming to their states, Lavinia Limon, president and CEO of the U.S Committee for Refugees and Immigration, said under the Refugee Act of 1980 governors cannot legally block refugees from settling in their communities.
Here's a look at where some states stand:
Republican Gov. Robert Bentley announced Sunday that he would refuse Syrian refugees relocating to the state, saying: "I will not stand complicit to a policy that places the citizens of Alabama in harm's way." Bentley's news release said the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency was diligently working with federal officials to monitor any possible threats. There has been no credible intelligence of terror threats in Alabama so far, according to the governor's office.
Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson says he opposes Syrian refugees being relocated to Arkansas. Hutchinson, a former undersecretary of the federal Department of Homeland Security, said he doesn't believe the United States should be a permanent place of relocation for the refugees and that he thinks Europe, Asia or Africa are logically the best places for resettlement or temporary asylum.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy says Connecticut will continue to accept refugees from Syria. The Democrat told NBC Connecticut on Monday the state is committed to accepting the refugees and believes background checks could easily be performed and his spokesman, Devon Puglia, said the administration is continuing to work with federal officials and await guidance as "they develop procedures following the tragedy in Paris."
Gov. Rick Scott is calling on Congress to block attempts by the Obama administration to relocate 425 Syrian refugees to Florida. The Republican governor on Monday wrote a letter to congressional leaders that asked them to take "immediate and aggressive action" to prevent the relocation of Syrian refugees without an "extensive evaluation" of the risk the refugees may pose to national security.
Gov. Bruce Rauner joined the growing list of Republican governors who announced they want to prevent Syrian refugees from relocating in their states. In a statement issued Monday, Rauner said the state will "temporarily suspend accepting new Syrian refugees and consider all of our legal options pending a full review of the process by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security."
Saying he wants to protect residents of his state in the wake of terrorist attacks in Paris, Gov. Terry Branstad acknowledged that governors might not be have the legal authority to prevent the Syrian refugees from relocating to their states because "this is a federal program." Still, the Republican said he wants more information from the federal government about where people are being placed and the vetting process.
Republican Gov. Mike Pence announced Monday that he was ordering state agencies to suspend the relocation of any more Syrian refugees to the state until he received assurances from the federal government that proper security measures had been taken.
Gov. Bobby Jindal - a GOP presidential contender - said he wants more information from the White House "in hopes that the night of horror in Paris is not duplicated here." Jindal sent a letter to the White House on Saturday, demanding to know how many Syrian refugees have been resettled in his state. He also wants to know the extent of background screening before Syrians entered the U.S. United States as well as what monitoring would be done once the refugees make it to Louisiana.
Gov. Paul LePage said it is "irresponsible" to allow Syrian refugees into the country in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris. The Republican governor, who said he does "not know for certain" if Maine has any Syrian refugees right now, plans to point out in a radio address on Monday that one of his first actions as governor was to prevent Maine from serving as a "sanctuary state" for people living in the country without legal permission.
Gov. Charlie Baker says he's opposed to allowing more Syrian refugees into Massachusetts in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Paris and that he wants to know much more about the federal government's vetting process before allowing them into the state. Democratic Boston Mayor also says he wants to know about how the federal government screens refugees.
Gov. Rick Snyder had bucked many fellow Republican leaders by welcoming refugees to Michigan, which has a large Arab-American population. But he said Sunday that the state is postponing efforts to accept refugees until federal officials fully review security procedures and clearances. Snyder said that while he is proud of the state's history of immigration, its "first priority is protecting the safety of our residents."
Gov. Phil Bryant said Monday that he's trying to find out if there are any plans by the federal government to relocate any Syrian refugees in the state and if there are the Republican said he will "do everything humanly possible" to stop it.
Gov. Tom Wolf said his administration will keep working with the federal government to properly screen and resettle Syrian refugees in the state. The Democrat said Monday that the federal government thinks it can handle an additional 10,000 refugees that the White House said in September that it would accept from Syria.
Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday ordered Texas' refugee resettlement program not to accept any more Syrians in the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks. In a letter to Obama, the Republican also urged scrapping federal plans to accept more Syrian refugees into the country as a whole. He said the federal government can't perform "proper security checks" on Syrians.
Gov. Scott Walker said in September that the United States should not take in any more refugees from Syria and now, in the wake of the terrorist attack in Paris, Republican leaders of the Wisconsin state Assembly are saying the same thing. They're circulating a letter they plan to send to President Barack Obama's administration saying they don't want any Syrian refugees.