Governors across the U.S. are threatening to halt efforts to allow Syrian refugees into their states in the aftermath of the coordinated attacks in Paris, though immigration experts say under the Refugee Act of 1980 governors cannot legally block refugees from settling in their communities.
The mostly Republican governors of 25 states made statements of varying intensity, saying they are worried about people resettling in their states after fleeing Syria's four-year civil war.
The governors cited concerns that some refugees could be associated with Islamic State militants.
The heads of several U.S. refugee advocacy and resettlement agencies called on the governors to back down. "If ISIS had hoped that their attacks in Paris would provoke the United States and its allies to react with small-minded panic, some governors are helping them get their wish," said Linda Hartke, president of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, one of nine agencies contracted by the U.S. State Department to resettle refugees.
"This is not an either/or situation," Hartke said on a conference call with reporters and the heads of three other refugee advocacy groups. "The United States can continue to welcome refugees while continuing to ensure our own security."
Lavinia Limon, chief executive of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, noted that most refugees, which are referred to the United States by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, undergo about two years of security and background checks before they are allowed to enter the United States and that none have committed terrorist attacks.
"The millions of tourists and businessmen that come in every year do not undergo even remotely the level of checks that refugees do," Limon said.
Governors over a wide swath of the United States, from Idaho to Florida, said they were not confident that existing programs to screen potential refugees would exclude those who might carry out attacks. A Syrian passport found near the site of one of the Paris attacks indicated that its holder had entered the European Union through Greece, raising concerns that an attacker had entered with a crowd of refugees.
Kevin Appleby, director of migration policy for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said an estimated 4 million people have fled the fighting in Syria, with the United States having taken in about 2,200.
"We haven't even come close to the burden-sharing that we need to be at," Appleby said. "We call upon all the governors, all our officials in Congress to come together and look at real solutions to this crisis and not to politicize it."
Here's a look at where some state governors stand, and the number (in parentheses) of Syrian refugees who have arrived in each state since Jan. 1, according to the U.S. State Department's Refugee Processing Center:
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.
The oil-producing state is grappling with an estimated budget deficit of $3.5 billion amid low oil prices, and Gov. Bill Walker, a Republican turned independent, "has been focused on solving the state's fiscal challenges," spokeswoman Katie Marquette said by email Monday. She said Walker has not given any consideration to trying to stop Syrian refugees from settling in the state.
Republican Gov. Doug Ducey is 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.
Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown says he'll work closely with President Barack Obama to ensure any Syrian refugees coming to California are "fully vetted in a sophisticated and utterly reliable way." He says the state can help uphold America's traditional role as a place of asylum while also protecting Californians.
Colorado's governor isn't ruling out Syrian refugees in the wake of terror attacks in Paris. But Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper said Monday the federal government needs to make sure the verification process for refugees is "as stringent as possible." Colorado has received no Syrian refugees, according to state officials.
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. 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."
Democratic Gov. Jack Markell is standing by his support for President Obama's decision to provide asylum for Syrian refugees in the United States, despite Republican calls not to accept refugees in Delaware. The head of the Delaware Republican Party, along with state Sen. Colin Bonini, a Republican candidate for governor, urged Markell on Monday not to accept Syrian refugees in the wake of terrorist attacks in Paris. Markell responded that former Republican President Ronald Reagan was committed to welcoming those seeking safety from fear and persecution.
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. Nathan Deal says the state will not accept Syrian refugees. Deal, a Republican, says he issued an executive order on Monday directing state officials to prevent resettlement of Syrian refugees in Georgia. He also asked the Obama administration to work with Georgia officials to confirm the backgrounds of Syrian refugees already resettled in Georgia.
Hawaii's Democratic Gov. David Ige says his state would welcome refugees from Syria with aloha. Ige says safety is his first priority, but that the U.S. accepts refugees only after conducting the highest level of screening and security checks.
Republican Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter is calling for the immediate halt of resettling new refugees until vetting rules can be reviewed and state concerns about the program can be addressed.
Republica Gov. Bruce Rauner announced he wants 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 says 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.
Republican Gov. Sam Brownback issued an executive order Monday directing that no state agency, or organization receiving grant money from the state, shall participate or assist in the relocation of Syrian refugee
Kentucky's incoming Republican governor is opposing the resettlement of Syrian refugees. Republican Gov.-elect Matt Bevin's stance is at odds with Kentucky's current governor. Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear says Kentucky should do "the Christian thing" and welcome all refugees who have passed extensive background checks.
Gov. Bobby Jindal — a Republican 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. as well as what monitoring would be done once the refugees make it to Louisiana.
Gov. Paul LePage says 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.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan says the state will "make a very reasoned and careful decision" about how it will proceed in policy regarding potential Syrian refugees. The Republican governor said Monday the issue is one that "we'll be looking at very closely."
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.
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. Mark Dayton isn't objecting to the possible placement of Syrian refugees in his state as long as they undergo rigorous screening first. The Democrat released a statement Monday saying he's been assured by the White House that any refugees from Syria would be "subject to the highest level of security checks of any category of traveler to the United States."
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.
Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon says it's up to the federal government to screen refugees and is calling for safeguards following deadly terror attacks in Paris. But in a statement Monday, Nixon didn't say he'd block Syrian refugees from settling in Missouri. Three Republican candidates for governor want Nixon to do so, citing safety concerns.
Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock said Monday the state "will not allow any terrorist organization to intimidate us into abandoning our values." State officials are reviewing the existing protocols for considering refugee settlement requests and if there are any safety concerns, the refugees will be denied, he said.
Gov. Pete Ricketts says he does not want Syrian refugees resettling in Nebraska until the federal government conducts a full review of its screening procedures to ensure public safety. The Republican sent a letter Monday to refugee resettlement agencies in the state, urging them not to pursue resettlement of the refugees in light of the terrorist attacks in Paris.
Gov. Brian Sandoval says he wants the White House to review the process of refugee resettlement in light of the attacks. The Republican didn't go as far as other governors, who threatened to halt efforts to allow Syrian refugees into their states.
NEW HAMPSHIRE (3)
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. The Democratic governor also says more facts are needed on how the attackers got into Paris before the United States takes more Syrian refugees.
NEW JERSEY (75)
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie says he's opposed to any Syrian refugees entering the country — even infant orphans. Christie's comments came during conservative host Hugh Hewitt's radio show. They were a complete reversal from September, when the Republican presidential contender said the U.S. should "play their role" in taking in refugees without committing to a specific number after a photograph of a dead migrant child humanized the migrant influx.
NEW MEXICO (0)
New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez says she's opposed to the Obama administration's plan to accept any more Syrian refugees until there's a clear plan in place to properly vet and place them. Martinez, the nation's only Latina governor and a leader within the Republican Governors Association, says the top priority should be safety.
NEW YORK (48)
Gov. Andrew Cuomo isn't commenting on a request from a New York congressman and a state assemblyman that he prevent Syrian refugees from being placed in the state. U.S. Rep. Chris Collins and Assemblyman Christopher Friend, both Republicans, cited the threat of terrorism in calling on Cuomo to reject additional refugees. A spokesman for Cuomo, a Democrat, declined to comment.
NORTH CAROLINA (23)
Republican Gov. Pat McCrory is asking the Obama administration to cease sending refugees from Syria to North Carolina until the state is satisfied with the effectiveness of federal background and security checks.
NORTH DAKOTA (0)
The office of Republican Gov. Jack Dalrymple says North Dakota has not received any Syrian refugees and doesn't expect any will be sent to the state.
Gov. John Kasich, a Republican presidential candidate, doesn't want Ohio or the United States to accept more Syrian refugees. Spokesman Jim Lynch says the Republican presidential candidate is writing to ask President Barack Obama to stop resettling Syrian refugees in Ohio because safety and security issues can't adequately be addressed. Kasich also is reviewing steps Ohio might take to stop resettlement.
Republican Gov. Gov. Mary Fallin is urging President Barack Obama to suspend accepting any Syrian refugees to the U.S. Fallin said Monday the Obama administration needs to assure the public that it is conducting rigorous background checks on any Syrian refugees coming into the U.S.
Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf said his administration will keep working with the federal government to properly screen and resettle Syrian refugees in the state.
RHODE ISLAND (0)
Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo said in September she's willing to help if the federal government asks Rhode Island to host Syrian refugees. Raimondo's spokeswoman says the governor would coordinate closely with the White House and law enforcement if the state receives a request now.
SOUTH CAROLINA (0)
Gov. Nikki Haley says she supports allowing persecuted immigrants to come to South Carolina — as long as they're not from Syria. Republicans in the state Legislature called on Haley to oppose all international refugees. But the Republican governor said as long as nothing changes in who is being resettled in the state, neither will her stance.
SOUTH DAKOTA (0)
Republican Gov. Dennis Daugaard's office says it doesn't expect to receive any Syrian refugees. Spokesman Tony Venhuizen says it's not at all clear that the state would have any say over the refugee program, which the federal government manages.
Gov. Bill Haslam says he is asking the federal government to suspend placement of Syrian refugees in Tennessee. In a statement released to media on Monday, Haslam acknowledges that the federal government has the authority to place refugees but states "they have said in the past they would be open to cooperating with receiving states."
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.
Republican Gov. Gary Herbert is ordering a review of security checks for refugees coming to Utah on the heels of the last week's attacks in Paris, but he stopped short of threatening to stop accepting Syrian refugees. Herbert said he wants to help those fleeing violence but that public safety is the top priority.
A spokesman for Virginia's governor says his public safety team is communicating with federal authorities about refugee resettlements, including those involving Syrians. Brian Coy issued the statement Monday on behalf of Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe. The statement says every refugee settled in the U.S. undergoes intensive security screening.
Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin says his colleagues across the nation who say they won't allow Syrian refugees into their states are "stomping on the qualities that make America great." Shumlin, a Democrat, 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.
Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee says Washington state will welcome Syrian refugees. In a statement Monday, Inslee also criticized other governors who have threatened to stop accepting refugees.
WEST VIRGINIA (0)
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's office says he does not anticipate a federal request for placement of refugees in West Virginia. In a statement, Tomblin's office says the governor has not been contacted by the federal government regarding large-scale placements of Syrian refugees, and that any smaller placements likely would take more than a year. The statement says the state would ensure "that proper security screening was conducted by federal and state officials."
Gov. Scott Walker said Monday that Wisconsin won't accept any new Syrian refugees because doing so poses a security threat.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now