Several U.S. governors, including Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, 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.
“While we have empathy for the hardships that innocent Syrian people face, the tenorist attacks in Paris raise a need for additional scrutiny of those claiming refugee status,” Deal wrote Monday in a letter to President Barack Obama. “As I am sure you are aware, recent reports indicate that at least one of the suicide bombers involved in Friday's tragedy made his way to Europe from Syria under claim of political refugee status. This, I fear, is reflective of a broader problem with the process by which governments screen those from war tom areas who seek refugee status.”
Authorities said a Syrian passport was found near one of the attackers, and the Paris prosecutor's office says fingerprints from the attacker match those of someone who passed through Greece in October.
Deal’s statement said 59 refugees have been resettled in Georgia since October of 2014, and he asked the Obama administration to work with state officials to “ensure they do not pose a security threat to our citizens.” Jen Talaber, a Deal spokeswoman, said six of those people have arrived since the fiscal year began in October.
Deal’s letter to Obama requests Obama place a moratorium on Syrian refugee resettlement in the United States until the screening process of refugees “can be thoroughly reevaluated, reexamined, and supported by Congress.” He is directing state agencies not to participate in the resettlement of Syrian refugees within Georgia.
Amy Crownover, a spokeswoman for New American Pathways, provided a statement urging Georgians to stand with Syrian refugees. The nonprofit assists refugees in the state. Crownover said the resettlement process take 18 to 24 months for those coming from Syria.
“We should not let fear stop us from welcoming those who are in the greatest need,” her statement read. “Refugees are the single most scrutinized and vetted individuals to travel to the United States, undergoing more than seven security checks by intelligence agencies, including biometric tests, medical screenings and in-person interviews with Department of Homeland Security officials.”
Millions of Syrians have fled to neighboring Middle Eastern countries and Europe, and 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 other 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.
ARIZONA — Gov. Doug Ducey is joining a growing list of Republican governors calling for an immediate halt to the placement of any new refugees from the Middle East. And Ducey made it clear that the state is within its legal rights to do so, saying that he is invoking the state’s right under federal law to immediately consult with U.S. officials on any new refugee placements. He also wants Congress to change the law to give states more oversight over refugee placement. Ducey says national leaders must react to protect its citizens.
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.
New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan says the United States should halt the acceptance of Syrian refugees until intelligence and defense officials can assure a strong process for vetting refugees. Hassan also says more facts are needed on how the attackers got into Paris before the United States takes more Syrian refugees.
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.
Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin says other governors who say they won’t allow Syrian refugees into their states are “stomping on the qualities that make America great.” Shumlin says there is an extensive screening process in place for refugees. Since 1989 about 7,000 refugees have been resettled in Vermont, and while none of them are from Syria, there are plans to settle a small number in the state during the current fiscal year.
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.