From the November 17 edition of CNN's New Day:
CHRIS CUOMO (HOST): It's not just about law or politics. It's about culture. It's about defining who America wants to be. It's an ongoing debate so let's have it right now. We have Republican Alabama Governor Robert Bentley. He is the first governor to formally announce that he's refusing to relocate Syrian refugees to his state. Governor, thank you very much for joining us. Please, make the case for your action.
GOV. ROBERT BENTLEY: Well, it's my responsibility as the governor of Alabama to make sure that the people of Alabama are safe and secure. And we have too many unanswered questions related to the refugees. And when we have those unanswered questions, by the federal government we can't take the responsibility on a state level to bring people in. They only have to be right one time, terrorists do. And we have to be wrong one time. And so we can't take that chance. And that is why we've made this decision.
CUOMO: And the pushback would be well then you wouldn't let anybody in the country from anywhere because you never know with full certainty that a population is going to be harm-free and that the vetting of these refugees is not only layered and extended but is as exhaustive as any.
BENTLEY: Well, I have been told by my law enforcement agency, by Homeland Security that there have been some major threats against the United States after 9/11. And all of those individuals came out of refugee programs.
CUOMO: You've been told that all of the people who would want to harm the United States have come from refugee programs? Is that what you are saying?
BENTLEY: Major threats that have occurred since 9/11. Not necessarily all, but the major threats that have been stopped, those individuals that came out of refugee programs. That is what I've been told.
CUOMO: And so that informs your position that the refugees are the exact group that you want to target in terms of whom to keep out of country?
BENTLEY: Well, right now. We just have to make a decision on each individual situation. And right now the situation is that we have to protect the people of our states. Do we have the authority? Yes, we have the authority to do that.
CUOMO: Well, the authority, that's going to be a separate conversation, right? Obviously immigration is federally done. This comes down to what funding you can provide or not provide in your state. You then have the complication that even if they are not allowed in Alabama but they are allowed in Florida or Mississippi they have rights of movement, as you know, temporary citizens in the country, so they could just move into your state. All of that would have to be dealt with. But this main question of whether or not to allow them at all is worth some more focus. You know, the numbers show that this perception that what you are letting in in this refugee population are warrior age males kind of doesn't get supported by statistics. It is 50/50 male/female. Most of the people who want to come in is one percent of the refugee population that the UN directs towards US consideration, are really young boys, girls, women and young adult men. Does that change your opinion?
BENTLEY: Well, you know, my heart says that we should let these people in simply because they are fighting ISIS and have been displaced by ISIS just like the, you know, ISIS is our enemy also. So my heart says that we should let them in. But my head says that I have to protect the people of the state of Alabama and keep them secure.
CUOMO: Well, in reconciling your heart with your head, does your head tell you that this is essentially a religious test that you are putting on this population? That simply because they are Muslims fleeing Syria that you don't want them here even though there is all this layered vetting and considerations of who's getting let in and it's a relatively small slice of the overall population?
BENTLEY: Well let me say that the vetting is not done very well. Because the head of the FBI himself said that we cannot vet these people completely. And we just can't take a chance on it right now. We need to be protective of the people of our state and that is what I'm doing.
CUOMO: I understand that. Now what Comey said is that if they haven't made any mark where they are, if they're not recognized as a threat in the system no amount of vetting would change that. And that's certainly a concern but, isn't this a major decision to make to say that this entire group of people, some four million fleeing for their lives, cannot be considered to enter the United States because of the concerns you have? Think about the implications that that might reverberate across the world? The message that America would be sending that we won't accept any of these people who are literally running for their lives?
BENTLEY: No. And I said in my heart I feel that way. I feel that we should look into allowing them a place to go. But just like Condoleezza Rice said yesterday when I was with her. She said that the areas that need -- where they need an area is really in the region where they live. It's not here in the United States.
CUOMO: And as you know, the overwhelming majority are going exactly there. They are either in Turkey or in a regional entity. We are dealing with a very small slice that are passed along by the U.N. to the U.S. for consideration. But obviously this is a debate that's going on. Because it is definitional about what the country wants to be about, not just how it vets this refugees. But thank you, Governor for making the case. We'll continue this conversation as it starts to move along in terms of what the options are. Thank you, Governor for joining us on New Day.