State Governors Defy President, Attempt to Forbid Syrian Refugees

By Sameer Rao Nov 16, 2015

In the wake of the attacks in Paris, multiple U.S. state governors are pledging to not accept refugees from Syria. 

Calls to ban further Syrian refugee resettlement came most prominently from the governors of Michigan, Alabama and Texas. They join several other state governors who are either pledging to halt their state’s cooperation with the federal government or demanding a review of resettlement standards. 

The opposition comes after the revelation that one of the suspected Paris attack perpetrators entered Europe with other refugees. Authorities found a Syrian passport near the body of one of the attackers before matching his fingerprints with that of someone who emigrated through Greece last month.

Texas governor Greg Abbott tweeted a letter to President Barack Obama that expressed his stance that Texas will not allow any more Syrian refugees and his view that the country should do the same. He also cited alleged terrorism plots from Muslims living in Texas: 

Given the tragic attack in Paris and the threats we have already seen in Texas, coupled with the FBI director’s acknowledgment that we do not have the information necessary to effectively vet Syrian nationals, Texas cannot participate in any program that will result in Syrian refugees— any one of whom could be connected to terrorism—being resettled in Texas. 

Alabama governor Robert Bentley announced Sunday that his state would also not accept refugees. "As your governor, I will not stand complicit to a policy that places the citizens of Alabama in harm’s way," said Bently in a statement from his office. The statement also noted that no Syrian refugees have been relocated in Alabama to date.

Rick Snyder, governor of Michigan, originally stood against fellow Republicans when he opened his state to Syrian refugees. Michigan houses some of the country’s highest concentrations of Muslims, mainly in Metro Detroit cities like Dearborn and Hamtramck. On Sunday, Snyder said that he will put plans to settle more refugees on hold:

"Michigan is a welcoming state and we are proud of our rich history of immigration. But our first priority is protecting the safety of our residents," Snyder said. "Given the terrible situation in Paris, I’ve directed that we put on hold our efforts to accept new refugees until the U.S. Department of Homeland Security completes a full review of security clearances and procedures."

Snyder, Bentley and Abbott join governors of Indiana, Illinois and Arkansas in saying that will not settle Syrian refugees, even if that means directing state agencies in defiance of the federal government. The Associated Press reports that the governors of Massachusetts and Mississippi are calling for review and transparency for federal refugee vetting standards. And Florida’s Rick Scott and Wisconsin’s Scott Walker are further qualifying their opposition by petitioning Congress and President Obama, respectively. 

CNN reports that at least fifteen states’ governors oppose further refugee settlement. Not included among the aforementioned states are Arizona, Louisiana (whose governor, Bobby Jindal, is running for the Republican presidential nomination), North Carolina, Ohio and New Hampshire. 

President Obama announced in September that the United States would allow 10,000 Syrian refugees to enter in 2016, and the governors’ actions stand in contrast to this federal directive.

The AP cites Lavinia Limón, president and CEO of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigration, as saying that governors cannot legally block refugee settlement under the Refugee Act of 1980.

Meanwhile, state governors from Delaware, Connecticut and Pennsylvania have pledged their support for continued refugee resettlement.

(H/t CNN, AP, MLive)