Several U.S. Governors Come Out Against Resettling Syrian Refugees

Nov 16, 2015
Originally published on November 17, 2015 1:29 pm
Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

One of the Paris attackers was reportedly carrying a Syrian passport and may have entered Europe by posing as a refugee fleeing the violence in Syria. That's caused many to call for a moratorium on accepting and resettling Syrian migrants. Speaking at the G-20 summit in Turkey today, President Obama addressed those calls.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BARACK OBAMA: 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.

CORNISH: American governors, though, are increasingly joining the ranks of those suspicious of Syrian refugees. About half the governors in the U.S. are now calling for the federal government to not resettle these Syrians in their states. NPR's John Burnett reports on the immigration backlash that's gathering steam.

JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: Texas governor Greg Abbott announced that he was joining the list of governors who demanded that President Obama rescind his pledge to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees fleeing that country's civil war. Abbott said that Texas is also vulnerable to Syrian immigrants who've been caught coming across the southern border illegally. He forcefully made this point this morning on the radio talk show of Laura Ingraham.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GREG ABBOTT: We don't know who these people are or what they're are doing, but we do know they are coming from a nation or a state that is connected with terrorism posing very real danger to the people in this state and in this country. And I sent a letter to the president that said neither you nor any federal official can guarantee that Syrian refugees will not be part of any terroristic activity.

BURNETT: From Alabama governor Robert Bentley, I will not stand complicit to a policy that places the citizens of Alabama in harm's way. Michigan governor Rick Snyder, who, earlier this year, expressed his hospitality to immigrants fleeing turmoil in the Middle East, has done an about-face. The Detroit area is home to a high concentration of Middle Eastern immigrants. I've directed that we put on hold our efforts to accept new refugees, he said, until the Department of Homeland Security completes a full review of security clearances and procedures.

Refugee advocates say governors do not have the power to pick and choose which nationality of refugee can resettle in their state territory. The selection and screening process is federal. Since 2012, 2,159 Syrian refugees have been admitted into the United States. The vast majority have gone to Europe and neighboring countries. Stacie Black is with the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigration which contracts with the State Department.

STACIE BLACK: We see this as an unfortunate fear response that's really not grounded in the realities of the U.S. resettlement program.

BURNETT: She echoes what President Obama has pointed out - that refugees are the most vetted immigrants, more than tourists, students or businesspeople. She says the average refugee faces a two-year waiting period of intensive background in security checks. Dr. Yahya Basha is a prominent Syrian-American in the Detroit area who's been there since the 1970s and who has family members fleeing the current civil war. Basha says the Syrians who are coming here today are not rushing the borders like we've seen in recent TV images. He says they've been living for years in Jordanian refugee camps.

YAHYA BASHA: It's not like something somebody just walked in like the way it happened in Europe. Here, there is a process already.

BURNETT: Swimming against the tide, the Democratic governors of Pennsylvania, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii and Washington say their states will keep their gates open to Syrian refugees. What's more, Martin Walsh, the mayor of Boston, site of the 2013 marathon bombing by Islamic extremists, issued a statement today saying his city, too, will still accept all refugees. As a city and as a country, said the Boston mayor, it is not our custom to turn our backs on people who are in need and who are innocent. John Burnett, NPR News, Boston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.