As Sununu Stays Neutral, N.H. Attorney General Opposes Trump's Order on Refugees

Jan 30, 2017

While Republican governors in Massachusetts and Vermont expressed concern over the weekend about President Trump’s recent executive order on immigration and refugees, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu took a more neutral stance when weighing in on the issue Monday.

New Hampshire’s top law enforcement official, on the other hand, is staking out his own opposition to Trump’s actions.

Before Sununu said anything publicly on the matter, New Hampshire Attorney General Joseph Foster spoke out independently against the president’s decision to restrict travel from seven Muslim-majority nations.

“Religious liberty has been and always will be a bedrock principal of our Country and no President can change that truth,” Foster said in a memo released by his office Monday morning. “Targeting immigrants and others because of their national origin or faith violates that core principal and ignores our history as a nation of immigrants."

Foster said he supports court decisions put in place over the weekend that halt Trump's order and state attorneys general “who share a similar commitment to defend our constitutional rights.”

When contacted by NHPR for details on his decision to take his own stance on the issue apart from the governor, Foster declined to elaborate on his original statement.

A former Democratic state senator, Foster was appointed to serve as attorney general by former Gov. Maggie Hassan and is expected to be replaced by Sununu when his term ends in March.

After remaining silent on the issue over the weekend, Sununu’s office issued a brief statement Monday in which the governor stopped short of taking a firm stance on the ban.

Instead, Sununu said immigration enforcement is a responsibility of the federal government but that he generally supports the idea of strengthening the vetting process of those coming to the United States.

The governor also said he’s monitoring the local impact of the executive order, but his office did not respond to NHPR’s questions about what the order might mean, specifically, for refugees already settled in New Hampshire.

According to state statistics, more than 700 refugees from nations affected by the travel ban – Iraq, Somalia, Sudan and Syria – have settled in New Hampshire since 2009. More than 100 of those refugees arrived in the last year alone.

At the state level, New Hampshire’s Department of Health and Human Services is the primary agency overseeing refugee resettlement — working with local refugee resettlement agencies to provide case management services, preventative health measures and other supports.

DHHS Spokesman Jake Leon said the agency is “closely monitoring the executive order on immigration and is working with the appropriate agencies to determine what impact it might have on New Hampshire and the refugees who have settled in the State.” DHHS did not make an official available for additional questions about the impact of the executive order on Monday.

For more details on the status of refugees in New Hampshire, including background on the screening processes already in place prior to last week's executive order, check out this recent overview from NHPR's The Exchange.