Governors in more than half of the United States have now publicly opposed the resettlement of Syrian refugees over security concerns.
Those states include: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin.
All but one of those states has a Republican governor, with New Hampshire’s Maggie Hassan as the lone Democrat.
Their objections rolled in by the hour yesterday, with some offering simple objections to refugees coming into their states and others issuing executive orders that instructed state agencies to do what they can to block Syrian refugees from being resettled in their states.
It’s not clear that governors have authority in this area given that immigration is a federal matter. When asked about it yesterday, State Department Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner said, “I think our lawyer is looking at that.”
Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, one of 25 Republicans raising such objections, originally said yesterday, “I don’t know that the states have the authority to decide whether or not we can take refugees.”
Later in the day, Branstad put out a statement saying, “Until a thorough and thoughtful review is conducted by the intelligence community and the safety of Iowans can be assured, the federal government should not resettle any Syrian refugees in Iowa.”
As we reported yesterday, the Obama administration has pledged to bring in 10,000 refugees over the next year. So far, fewer than 2,000 have come in. The numbers remain relatively low due to the arduous security screening process that’s in place, with coordination among federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies.
The State Department says that it needs to consult further with state and local officials who are raising concerns.
Advocates for refugees have sharply criticized the governors’ statements. Alison Parker of Human Rights Watch said, “The governors’ announcements amount to fear-mongering attempts to block Syrians from joining the generous religious groups and communities who step forward to welcome them.”
Presidential candidates have also weighed in, with Florida Sen. Marco Rubio telling ABC News on Sunday, “There is no background-check system in the world that allows us to find that out because who do you call in Syria to background-check them?”
Some governors said their states remain open to refugees from Syria, including those of Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Washington, Utah and Hawaii.
Utah’s Republican Gov. Gary Herbert released a statement through his spokesman tothe Salt Lake Tribune: “Utahns are well known for our compassion for those who are fleeing the violence in their homeland, and we will work to do all we can to ease their suffering without compromising public safety.”
A spokesman for Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy, a Democrat, told the Hartford Courant, “We are continuing to work with and await guidance from the appropriate federal agencies on screening measures that will be taken. With that said, if refugees — many who are children fleeing a horrific, war-torn country — seek and are granted asylum after a rigorous security process, we should and will welcome them in Connecticut.”
So on both sides of the aisle, there are calls for further explanation from federal officials about how the screening process works. And from the states, this debate will quickly move to Congress, where GOP lawmakers are promising to push legislation to end funding for the federal resettlement program for Syrian refugees.