The Cable

Here Are the Growing Number of U.S. Governors Saying No to Syrian Refugees

The number of states refusing to allow Syrian refugees in is growing.

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In the aftermath of the terrorist attack in Paris, the fight over President Barack Obama’s plan to resettle up to 10,000 Syrians in the United States by 2017 has moved from Congress to the state house. Twenty of them, in fact, and the list is growing.

Governors from Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin — all Republicans, with the exception of New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan, who is a Democrat — say they would not allow Syrians fleeing that country’s civil war to live in their states. The decisions to close these borders come after at least 129 people were killed in Paris in an attack orchestrated by the Islamic State. According to Greek officials, one of the Paris attackers posed as a refugee to gain entry to Europe on Oct. 3; many Republicans warn that Obama’s resettlement plan could allow terrorists to sneak into the United States as well. 

In a Sunday statement, Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley said he would “not place Alabamians at even the slightest possible risk of an attack on our people.”

“Please continue to join me in praying for those who have suffered loss and for those who will never allow freedom to fade at the hands of terrorists,” he added.

In Michigan, home to a large Muslim community, Gov. Rick Snyder also released a statement Sunday saying he would not allow Syrian refugees to live there until the Department of Homeland Security completes a review of its screening procedures.

“Michigan is a welcoming state and we are proud of our rich history of immigration,” Snyder said. “But our first priority is protecting the safety of our residents.”

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence announced on Monday he would also prohibit the resettlement of Syrian refugees. “Indiana has a long tradition of opening our arms and homes to refugees from around the world but, as governor, my first responsibility is to ensure the safety and security of all Hoosiers,” Pence said in a statement. Bobby Jindal, the governor of Louisiana, joined him.

Whether these governors can actually keep Syrians out of their states remains to be seen. Jen Smyers, director of policy and advocacy with the Immigration and Refugee Program at Church World Service, told USA Today that they are opening themselves up to discrimination lawsuits. Lavinia Limon, president and CEO of the U.S Committee for Refugees and Immigration, told the Associated Press that under the Refugee Act of 1980, governors cannot legally block refugees from coming to their states.

On Monday, Obama said the Paris attack would not change his plans to resettle Syrians in America. The administration says all of the refugees will be carefully screened. A spokesman for Gov. Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy of Connecticut both said their states would accept Syrian refugees. 

“We also have to remember that many of these refugees are the victims of terrorism themselves. That’s what they’re fleeing. Slamming the door in their faces would be a betrayal of our values,” Obama said during a press conference in Turkey, where he’s attending the G-20 summit. “Our nations can welcome refugees who are desperately seeking safety and ensure our own security. We can and must do both.”

The United States is accepting a relatively small number of the four million refugees the United Nations says have left war-torn Syria. By comparison, Germany plans to resettle some 800,000. 

In the aftermath of the Paris carnage, politicians across Europe called for a rethink of these plans. In the United States, Jeb Bush, a Republican presidential candidate, has called for Syrian refugees to be screened by religion for relocation, and said that U.S. assistance should focus on Christians.

Ibrahim Hooper, national communications director for Council on American–Islamic Relations, told Foreign Policy the calls to ban Syrian refugees from settling in the United States are “un-American” and “driven by fear and Islamophobia.”  

“Our checks on incoming immigrants or refugees are quite stringent,” Hooper added Monday. “There would be a screening process for anyone coming into this nation, from any part of the world, to make sure they have no ill intentions toward the United States.”

This post has been updated multiple times to reflect the growing number of states that have said no to Syrian refugees.

Photo credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

David Francis was a senior reporter for Foreign Policy, where he covered international finance. @davidcfrancis

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