by Elise Foley
WASHINGTON — A number of Republican governors said Sunday and Monday that they will block Syrian refugees from resettling in their states, based on concerns about terrorism after attacks in Paris last week.
The states are Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, New Jersey, North Carolina, Texas and Wisconsin. Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) said his state will block funding for resettling Syrian refugees but doesn’t have the power to prevent them from coming.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R), a presidential candidate, said Monday that the U.S. should not admit Syrian refugees, but stopped short of saying he would refuse to allow them into his state. New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan was the sole Democrat to say she opposed resettling Syrian refugees in the U.S., although she, like Kasich, did not specifically say they would be blocked from her state.
All of the governors cited the terrorist attacks in Paris, which the Islamic State, also called ISIS, claimed credit for. Authorities found a Syrian passport near one of the suicide bombers there, although it has yet to be confirmed whether it belonged to the attacker, or whether it was stolen or a forgery. French authorities said the mastermind of the attacks was a Belgian man.
The attacks set off a backlash against Syrian refugees. In Europe, Poland’s future minister for European affairs said the country will not implement the European Union’s refugee plan in light of the attacks in Paris. In the U.S., calls to limit refugee admissions have come mostly from Republicans — many of whom had expressed concerns about admitting Muslims from Syria in the first place.
The Obama administration plans to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees this fiscal year, all of whom will undergo security screenings that typically take 18 to 24 months. Refugees go through more extensive screening than any other group, such as tourists, students and people who cross the border.
Republicans argue, though, that those screenings are not enough and terrorists will exploit the system. It’s not clear that governors can actually block certain types of refugees — if nothing else, it would likely prompt discrimination lawsuits, and refugees are allowed to move once they arrive in the U.S., so it would be difficult to stop them from moving to their states on their own. But the governors said they can and will keep those refugees out. (The State Department, which handles refugee resettlement, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether states have the ability to block a certain type of refugees.)
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), who is running for president, told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt he wants to keep out Syrian refugees, even if they’re children.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R), another presidential candidate, issued an executive order on Monday authorizing his government “to utilize all lawful means” to block Syrian refugees from resettling in the state.
He also instructed and authorized state police “to utilize all lawful means to monitor and avert threats within the State of Louisiana” if notified of Syrian refugees already living in the state.
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley (R) said Sunday he would “not stand complicit to a policy that places the citizens of Alabama in harm’s way.”
In Michigan, where many Syrians have already resettled, Gov. Rick Snyder (R) also said he would aim to keep out refugees from the country.
“Michigan is a welcoming state and we are proud of our rich history of immigration,” Snyder said in the statement. “But our first priority is protecting the safety of our residents.”
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) similarly played up the state’s traditional welcoming nature when saying Syrian refugees would be rejected. He said Monday that he was directing state agencies to stop admitting Syrian refugees “pending assurances from the federal government that proper security measures have been achieved.”
“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,” he said. “Unless and until the state of Indiana receives assurances that proper security measures are in place, this policy will remain in full force and effect.”
Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) said Monday he will “temporarily suspend” admitting Syrian refugees, while also talking about the state and country’s “shared history of providing safe haven for those displaced by conflict.”
“We must find a way to balance our tradition as a state welcoming of refugees while ensuring the safety and security of our citizens,” he said.
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R), who previously said he was open to helping resettle Syrians, now is “not interested.”
“I would say no as of right now,” he told reporters on Monday. “No, I’m not interested in accepting refugees from Syria.”
Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (R) promised “to do everything humanly possible to stop any plans from the Obama administration to put Syrian refugees in Mississippi.”
“The policy of bringing these individuals into the country is not only misguided, it is extremely dangerous,” he said in a statement. “I’ll be notifying President Obama of my decision today to resist this potential action.”
North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) announced Monday that he is asking the government to stop sending Syrian refugees to his state. He said 59 Syrian refugees had been resettled there already and the state received too little information about them.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) sent President Barack Obama a letter telling him his state would not welcome Syrians and urging him to halt plans to admit more Syrians into the U.S. Abbott argued that any Syrian might be connected to terrorism.
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter (R) said in a statement that it makes no sense “to allow people into our country who have the avowed desire to harm our communities, our institutions and our people.” He said he would “use any legal means available” to block Syrian refugee resettlement in the state.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) joined the chorus on Monday afternoon.
“There may be those who will try to take advantage of the generosity of our country and the ability to move freely within our borders through this federal resettlement program, and we must ensure we are doing all we can to safeguard the security of Americans,” he said in a statement.
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey took the most extreme approach — he announced he will oppose the resettlement of all refugees in his state, not just those from Syria.
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) tweeted his opposition to admitting Syrian refugees:
As Governor I will oppose Syrian refugees being relocated to Arkansas.
— Gov. Asa Hutchinson (@AsaHutchinson) November 16, 2015