Governors Who Don't Want To Accept Syrian Refugees Are Recycling Debunked Right-Wing Media Myths
Research ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN
At least 30 state governors -- 29 Republican, 1 Democratic -- are parroting right-wing media myths about security concerns presented by incoming Syrian refugees to argue against taking part in expanded refugee resettlement programs. However, the overwhelming majority of refugees pose no credible threat to the United States, and the vetting process for refugee applicants is thorough. Furthermore, state governments lack the legal authority to dictate immigration policy in the United States.
Governors Seek To Block Syrian Refugees, Citing An Inadequate Vetting Process And Security Threats
NY Times: Governors Argue "Refugees Could ... Slip Through The Screening Process And That They Could Pose A Terrorist Threat." On November 16, The New York Times reported that 26 governors across the United States -- all but one of them Republican -- "vowed to block the entry of Syrian refugees into their states" because they believe the refugees will "arrive without verifiable documents" and that potential terrorists could "slip through the screening process":
Republican fury over illegal immigration and border security took on a new dimension Monday as a growing number of governors, presidential candidates and members of Congress rushed to oppose or even defy President Obama's plan to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees.
Twenty-five Republican governors vowed to block the entry of Syrian refugees into their states, arguing that the safety of Americans was at stake after the Paris attacks by terrorists including a man who entered Europe with a Syrian passport and posed as a migrant. Among the governors were those from Illinois, Massachusetts, Texas and other states that have already resettled relatively large numbers of refugees from among the 1,900 Syrians accepted by the United States in the last four years.
One Democratic governor, Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, also urged the Obama administration to stop taking in Syrians until the federal vetting procedures for all refugees are "as strong as possible."
Echoing the political debate over immigration and border security, several governors warned that refugees could arrive without verifiable documents or slip through the screening process and that they could pose a terrorist threat once here. "I'm not interested in accepting refugees from Syria," said Gov. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, a Republican. "We would have to be very cautious about accepting folks without knowing a lot more about what the federal government's plan looks like." [The New York Times, 11/16/15]
Wash. Post: Governors Want To Stop Refugee Resettlement Unless Assured An "Adequate" Screening Process Will Take Place. In a November 16 article, The Washington Post wrote that the governors are "seeking to stop the relocation of new Syrian refugees to their states," citing security threats and an inadequate vetting process:
Governors of Illinois, Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Maine, Iowa, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Arizona, Indiana, Massachusetts, Idaho, Louisiana, Michigan, Alabama, Texas, Kansas, Georgia, Mississippi, and Arkansas--a majority of them Republican--have said that they are seeking to stop the relocation of new Syrian refugees to their states out of fear that violent extremists posing as refugees might gain entry to the country.
They have also sought reassurances that the process used to screen refugees is adequate. [The Washington Post, 11/16/15]
Reuters: Opposition To Refugee Resettlement Is "Part Of A Mounting Republican Backlash." A November 16 Reuters article reported that Republican opposition to refugee resettlement in the wake of the recent terror attacks in Paris is "part of a mounting Republican backlash" against the Obama administration:
More than [two] dozen state governors refused on Monday to accept Syrian refugees after the Paris attacks, part of a mounting Republican backlash against the Obama administration's plan to accept thousands more immigrants from the war-torn country.
Leading Republican presidential candidates called on President Barack Obama to suspend the plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees in the coming year and some Republican lawmakers began moves in Congress to try to defund the policy.
Republican leaders said it was too risky to allow a further influx of refugees after Friday's attacks by the Syria-based Islamic State group that killed 129 people. [Reuters, 11/16/15]
Huff. Post: Republicans Believe "Screenings Are Not Enough And Terrorists Will Exploit The System." A November 16 article in The Huffington Post stated that Republicans are arguing to stop the flow of Syrian refugees into the United States because they believe "screenings are not enough and terrorists will exploit the system." [The Huffington Post, 11/16/15]
Right-Wing Media Promoted Claims Linking Refugee Resettlement To Security Concerns
Fox's Kilmeade: The U.S. Government "Can't Run Background Checks" On Refugees, So "We Cannot Continue To Have This Open Borders Attitude." On the November 15 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends Sunday, co-host Brian Kilmeade claimed that the United States government is incapable of running background checks on Syrian refugees and that "they might be a bunch of saints or a bunch of ISIS members." Correspondent Geraldo Rivera added that "the majority of the [Syrian] refugees coming are young men of fighting age," suggesting they present a greater security threat (emphasis added):
BRIAN KILMEADE (HOST): What's your take on these refugees now, knowing that we can't run background checks, the government that is exporting them has collapsed, we have no idea who they were, they might be a bunch of saints, or a bunch of ISIS members. Being that it's America's security first or France's security first, depending on what country you are in, we cannot continue to have this open borders attitude when it comes to these refugees, don't you agree?
GERALDO RIVERA: I do, Brian, and the problem is that the pictures that you see that are so heart-rending of the refugees coming from Syria, generally speaking, they focus on the women and the children. The fact of the matter is, the majority of the refugees coming are young men of fighting age. Now, how do you vet them? [Fox News, Fox & Friends Sunday, 11/15/15]
Fox's Baier Cites Anonymous "Concerns About The Vetting Process" To Question Acceptance Of Refugees. On November 16, Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade stirred fears about refugees, suggesting the Obama administration is dragging its feet on sorting out the flow of foreign fighters from Syria and asking "what about putting America first for a change?" Fox's Bret Baier added that "people up on Capitol Hill who know the homeland security apparatus, they have real questions and concerns about the vetting process that is in place right now":
STEVE DOOCY (HOST): Ben Rhodes, one of the president's advisers who was on one of the Sunday chat shows, and he said up until 24 hours or 22 hours ago, the U.S. policy would be to continue to accept Syrian refugees. Listen to this, and we'll discuss.
BRIAN KILMEADE (HOST): Yeah, take your time figuring out a way to sort that out.
ELISABETH HASSELBECK(HOST): This is a tough one, I mean, you see -- OK, so there are women, there are children, there are men of fighting age. You know, we've had experts say between the ages of 16 and 40, they should sort those out. I mean, there's a lot of gray area here, Bret.
BRET BAIER: There is. But if you talk to people up on Capitol Hill who know thehomelandsecurity apparatus, they have real questions and concerns about the vetting process that is in place right now.And as Ben Rhodes talks about it, the intelligence community has its hands full trying to protect against attacks to come. I really do think this is going to be a huge issue politically and I'm not sure how it goes forward.
KILMEADE: Because I don't think it's a Republican or Democratic issue. It's the average American walking around saying, why are we doing this? It's not in our interest to do this. What about America first for a change?
BAIER: Well, I think there is the balance. Obviously America has always been welcoming to people who are suffering and you heard in the Democratic debate that the symbol of America is Lady Liberty, not barbed wire. But I do think that in this environment, it will be tough for this to move forward. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 11/16/15]
Wash. Times: The U.S. Has "No Way To Back-Check A Refugee's Story." On November 15, The Washington Times reported that the administration "still" plans to receive Syrian refugees after the Paris attacks, even though "Homeland Security officials ... say they don't, in fact, have access to the kinds of checks back in Syria that would allow them to vet would-be refugees":
The White House says it won't let its plans to bring Syrian refugees to the U.S. be derailed by Friday's terrorist attack in Paris, with a top official insisting Sunday that American authorities know how to weed out potential problems within the refugee community.
Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said the administration has a complete plan to both contain the Islamic State overseas and keep its recruited fighters out of the U.S. in a way that France was unable to.
But top members of Congress are skeptical of those plans, pointing to "gaping holes" in American defenses, and said even top Homeland Security officials have admitted the U.S. does not have access to the kinds of records and databases in the Middle East that would make sure immigration officers could screen out terrorists.
Members of Congress said Mr. Rhodes was dead wrong, and pointed to fears among Homeland Security officials who say they don't, in fact, have access to the kinds of checks back in Syria that would allow them to vet would-be refugees.
Without access to those databases, and without people on the ground who can walk neighborhoods and verify details, there is no way to back-check a refugee's story to see whether he is who he says he is. That puts enormous pressure on the in-person interview, conducted by Homeland Security officers. [The Washington Times, 11/15/15]
New York Post: Obama Administration "Going Ahead" With Pledge To Admit Syrian Refugees "Despite" Attacks In Paris. In a November 15 article, the New York Post linked the possibility that one of the attackers in France might have entered Europe with refugees to question the Obama administration's policy of admitting 10,000 refugees from Syria over the next year. The Post questioned assurances of "'careful' vetting," quoting Rep. Peter King (R-NY) claiming "[t]here is virtually no vetting because there are no databases in Syria" and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), who said, "[t]he problem is, we can't background-check them":
The administration is going ahead with its plan to admit thousands of Syrian refugees into the US despite the horrific attack in Paris -- where at least one of the attackers is believed to have posed as a Syrian migrant to get into the country.
US Rep. Pete King (R-LI), former chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, blasted the move as dangerous.
"There is virtually no vetting because there are no databases in Syria," he told Fox.
"We don't know who those people are. ... They are rolling the dice here, and we know that ISIS wants to bring in terrorists with these refugees."
Presidential candidate and US Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) added, "The problem is, we can't background-check them.
"You can't pick up the phone and call Syria, and that's one of the reasons why I said we won't be able to take more refugees," Rubio said on ABC's "This Week." [New York Post, 11/15/15]
Conservative Commentator Mark Steyn: Because Of Obama, There Will Be "No Screening Process" For Refugees. Appearing on the November 16 edition of Fox & Friends, conservative commentator Mark Steyn claimed there is "going to be no screening process" for Syrian refugees in America, suggesting that President Obama sympathizes too much with Islamic fundamentalists to keep America safe from terror threats:
ELISABETH HASSELBECK (HOST): ISIS is keeping it's promise. They are keeping their promises, yet it feels as though our president is dropping a ball, and breaking promise, when it comes to keeping us safe. What does the president need to do today?
MARK STEYN: Well, I think the president needs to decide whether he is on the side of the universal values he talked about. I mean, there is an incoherence here. He said, a couple of years ago at the UN, that "the future shall not belong to those who slander the Prophet of Islam." So, he's not on the side of free speech, which is a Western value ... He said, in Cairo, that he supports the right of women to go covered. That's a sign of female oppression, Elisabeth ... So, he's not on the side of women's rights.
STEVE DOOCY (HOST): But, you know, he is on the side of refugees, though, because the White House made it clear over the weekend that the flow of refugees from that region, and some of them could be ISIS guys, going to continue.
STEYN: Yeah, when I -- when you guys let me into your country, my lawyer said they look at it for six minutes, which means they don't have time to read the application, never mind check it. These guys are getting less than six minutes.They're from a country-- as we just heard with this Saudi passport business, they're coming from a country where they don't even have viable records. Nobody knows if if these passports are genuine.
BRIAN KILMEADE (HOST): It's a robust screening process, Ben Rhodes said.
STEYN: Yeah, it's going to be no screening process. It's like these guys in Greece. They land, they walk into Europe, they can walk into Serbia, Macedonia, walk all the way to Germany, France, Belgium and do what they want there. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 11/16/15]
Fox's Ralph Peters: "Don't Let Muslims In" To The United States "To Avoid Importing Islamist Terrorists." On the November 16 edition of Fox Business' Varney & Co., Fox News strategic analyst Ralph Peters advocated for the U.S. to ban Muslim refugees from entering the country, claiming that is how we "avoid importing Islamists terrorists into our country" (emphasis added):
STUART VARNEY (HOST): The topic this morning on many people's minds is whether or not we should allow 10,000 Syrian refugees into this country before the end of the year, and another 100,000 next year. We can't -- we don't know who they are. Should we let them in?
RALPH PETERS: Yeah, but that's, again, we need a little more granularity. There are real refugees among the people fleeing Syria and they're Christians. You want to avoid importing Islamist terrorists into our country? Don't let Muslims in, let the Saudis take them. I see a good argument for giving refuge to the Christians fleeing the Middle East, because we have stood by and done nothing while 2,000 years of Christian civilization has been systematically and gruesomely destroyed. [Fox Business, Varney & Co., 11/16/15]
Laura Ingraham: It Takes "One Syrian Refugee ... To Slaughter Americans On Our Streets." On the November 16 edition of Courtside Entertainment Group's The Laura Ingraham Show, Ingraham fearmongered about a possible threat posed by Syrian refugees stating "70,000 Syrian refugees coming into this country. It takes five Syrian refugees, or one Syrian refugee who's already hooked up with ISIS, to hook up with some jihadi cell in the United States to slaughter Americans on our streets." Ingraham also compared the "massive handout of visas to people who want to come into this country, at least from Muslim countries" to "a suicide pact":
LAURA INGRAHAM: 70,000 Syrian refugees coming into this country. It takes five Syrian refugees, or one Syrian refugee who's already hooked up with ISIS to hook up with some jihadi cell in the United States to slaughter Americans on our streets. It doesn't take much, does it?
The question on the table is, war in the Middle East, home front, secure it at home. A combination of targeted military action on a multilateral basis, with a beefed up homeland defense in our country, a common sense protection of our borders, and stopping this massive handout of visas to people who want to come into this country, at least from Muslim countries. Have to stop this. We cannot give them the gun to shoot us with, give them the noose to put around our necks. This is not a suicide pact here, this being a member of the global community is not a suicide pact for us. None of us voted for this. [Courtside Entertainment Group, The Laura Ingraham Show, 11/16/15]
Sean Hannity Asks If The President Is "Going to Gamble With The Lives Of Americans" By Taking In Syrian Refugees. On the November 16 edition of Fox News' Hannity, host Sean Hannity claimed that Syrian refugees pose a security threat to the United States, saying, "The president insisting still to take in Syrian refugees. The president is going to -- is he going to gamble with the lives of Americans and defy what his own intelligence people are saying? [Fox News, Hannity, 11/16/15]
PolitiFact: "Length[y] And Thorough" Vetting Process Takes Two Years On Average, Includes Multiple Security Checks. According to a November 15 post by PolitiFact, "a refugee undergoes a security clearance check that could take several rounds, an in-person interview, approval by the Department of Homeland Security, medical screening, a match with a sponsor agency, 'cultural orientation' classes, and one final security clearance," before arriving in the United States. Lavinia Limón, former director of the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement, stated that she was "99.9 percent sure" the Syrian ISIS member linked to the Paris attacks would not have passed the United States' vetting process (emphasis added):
Before a refugee even faces U.S. vetting, he or she must first clear an eligibility hurdle. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees -- or occasionally a U.S. embassy or another NGO -- determines which refugees (about 1 percent) should be resettled through its own process, which can take four to 10 months.
As we noted in a previous fact-check, once a case is referred from the UNHCR to the United States, a refugee undergoes a security clearance check that could take several rounds, an in-person interview, approval by the Department of Homeland Security, medical screening, a match with a sponsor agency, "cultural orientation" classes, and one final security clearance. This all happens before a refugee ever gets onto American soil.
So how long does it take? Worldwide, about a year to 18 months, according to a State Department fact-sheet cited by the Bush campaign. A different page on the State Department website estimates an average time of 18 to 24 months.
For refugees from Syria and similar countries, however, the process can span two years, a spokesperson for the State Department told the Voice of America in September. Experts confirmed that two years is the average review duration for Syrian refugees, which means that some wait even longer.
The length and thoroughness of the U.S. vetting system sets it apart from the "chaotic, dangerous process" for refugees fleeing into Europe by sea, said Geoffrey Mock, the Syrian country specialist for Amnesty International USA. Refugees enter European countries as asylum seekers and are granted access into the country without a thorough vetting from the UN. Scrutiny comes later.
"No vetting process can make guarantees, but the population identified by the UN and vetted by both organizations has worked successfully in alleviating crises in dozens of other countries, including Iraq, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia and the Central African Republic," Mock said. "There's no reason to believe Syria will be any different."
In other words, the process for admitting a Syrian asylum seeker into France is much simpler than the process for resettling a Syrian refugee into the United States.
"The U.S. refugee program is incredibly controlled. You can be 99.9 percent sure that guy wouldn't have gotten here," Limón said. "I understand the kneejerk reaction but you're painting a very broad brush stroke. Refugees, by definition, are fleeing terrorism. What happened in Paris, they've experienced. They've seen family members slaughtered and their houses burnt and they're running for their lives." [PolitiFact, 11/15/15]
State Department: "Refugees Are Subject To The Highest Level Of Security Checks Of Any Category Of Traveler To The United States." In a September 11 briefing on "the Mechanics of the United States Refugee Admissions Program," a State Department official explained that "there are a number of processing requirements ... that cannot be waived," which is "one of the many ways in which our Refugee Resettlement Program differs from a lot of other countries' resettlement programs." The official stated that "refugees are subject to the highest level of security checks of any category of traveler to the United States":
So there are a number of processing requirements within the [U.S. Refugee Admissions Program] that cannot be waived, such as an in-person DHS interview, security checks, and a medical exam, including a TB test. And this is one way - one of the many ways in which our Refugee Resettlement Program differs from a lot of other countries' resettlement programs. A lot of other countries can do things like waive an in-person interview. They can take a case based on dossier. They do very few security checks in some cases. Those are not options that are available to us. So because of these very strict requirements that we have and because at any given time we're processing cases in 70 or more locations worldwide with a limited amount of resources, it currently takes anywhere from 18 to 24 months or even longer to process a case from referral or application to arrival in the United States.
All refugees undergo multiple security checks in order to be approved for U.S. resettlement. Refugees are subject to the highest level of security checks of any category of traveler to the United States. The screening includes involvement of the National Counterterrorism Center, NCTC; the FBI's Terrorist Screening Center; DHS; the Department of Defense; and other agencies. [U.S. Department of State, 9/11/15]
USCIS Testimony Describes Multiple Ways Refugee Applicants Are Screened With Help From Security, Intelligence, And Counterterrorism Agencies. In an October 1 Senate hearing on refugee admissions, Barbara L. Stack and Matthew D. Emrich of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) offered written testimony that explained the vetting and security check process for refugees entering the United States. The testimony explained that the resettlement process includes background checks with State Department and National Counterterrorism Center, databases and fingerprint checks with FBI and Department of Defense, and that "[r]efugee applicants are subject to the highest level of security checks, and a refugee applicant is not approved for travel until the results of all required security checks have been obtained and cleared." [United States Senate, Senate Judiciary Committee, 10/1/15]
USCIS Testimony: Syrian Refugee Applicants Face Even More Stringent Security Checks. The October 1 USCIS testimony from Stack and Emrich explained that in addition to the normal security checks, "USCIS has instituted an additional layer of review for Syrian Refugee applications." The testimony noted that "Syrian cases are reviewed at USCIS headquarters by a Refugee Affairs Division officer" before an interview with an officer in the field is scheduled, and that if certain criteria are met, those case "are referred to the USCIS' Fraud Detection and National Security Directorate (FDNS) for additional review and research":
In addition to the existing suite of biometric and biographic checks that are applied to refugees regardless of nationality, USCIS has instituted an additional layer of review for Syrian refugee applications, taking into account the myriad actors and dynamic nature of the conflict in Syria. Before being scheduled for interview by a USCIS officer in the field, Syrian cases are reviewed at USCIS headquarters by a Refugee Affairs Division officer.
All cases that meet certain criteria are referred to the USCIS' Fraud Detection and National Security Directorate (FDNS) for additional review and research. FDNS conducts open-source and classified research on referred cases and synthesizes an assessment for use by the interviewing officer. This information provides case-specific context relating to country conditions and regional activity, and it is used by the interviewing officer to inform lines of inquiry related to the applicant's eligibility and credibility.
Throughout the review process of Syrian refugee applicants, FDNS engages with law enforcement and intelligence community members for assistance with identity verification, acquisition of additional information, or deconfliction to ensure USCIS activities will not adversely affect an ongoing law enforcement investigation. When FDNS identifies terrorism related information, it makes the appropriate nominations or enhancements to the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment (TIDE), using standard interagency watchlisting protocols. Additionally, USCIS drafts and disseminates reports to U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies alerting the interagency to information that meets standing intelligence information requirements. [United States Senate, Senate Judiciary Committee, 10/1/15]
Migration Policy Institute: "The Refugee Resettlement Program Is The Least Likely Avenue For A Terrorist To Choose." An October 2015 post from the Migration Policy Institute explained that "[t]he record of the U.S. refugee resettlement program does not support the fear of security threats," pointing out that over the last 14 years, only three refugees (out of 784,000) have been arrested in the United States for "planning terrorist activities." The post went on to note that, since there are "high hurdles for security clearance," it is extremely unlikely that refugees resettling in the United States would pose a security threat (emphasis added):
The reality is this: The United States has resettled 784,000 refugees since September 11, 2001. In those 14 years, exactly three resettled refugees have been arrested for planning terrorist activities--and it is worth noting two were not planning an attack in the United States and the plans of the third were barely credible.
The most common arguments against resettling more Syrian refugees, made by some Republican presidential candidates and members of Congress, is that the resettlement program could be a path for infiltration into the United States by ISIS or other terrorists. But the refugee resettlement program is the least likely avenue for a terrorist to choose. Refugees who are selected for resettlement to the United States go through a painstaking, many-layered review before they are accepted. The FBI, Department of Homeland Security, State Department, and national intelligence agencies independently check refugees' biometric data against security databases. The whole process typically takes 18-24 months, with high hurdles for security clearance.
Two of the three refugees resettled in the United States to be arrested on terrorist charges were plotting to send money and weapons to al-Qaeda in Iraq, and the third to an Islamist organization in Uzbekistan. The Uzbek alone boasted about potential attacks in the United States, but had no credible plans. All were detected by skillful intelligence operations before any plot could be carried out. One Iraqi would-be perpetrator is now serving a life sentence, the other 40 years in prison; the Uzbek is appealing his conviction from prison.
Based on these three cases, some politicians argue against the United States doing its part to help Syrians rebuild their lives in a safe and welcoming country, despite the hundreds of thousands of refugees who have thrived here. The record of the U.S. refugee resettlement program does not support the fear of security threats. This record is cause not for complacency but for confidence. [Migration Policy Institute, October 2015]
White House: No "Credible Threats" To U.S. Following Attacks. The Huffington Post noted that President Obama's deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told ABC's George Stephanopoulos on ABC's This Week that "Our determination is there's not a specific, credible threat to the homeland at this time." [The Huffington Post, 11/15/15]
CNN: States Do Not "Have The Legal Authority To Block Their Borders" From Refugees. On November 16, CNN reported that governors do not have the legal authority to refuse to admit refugees. The report quoted Kevin Appleby, the director of migration policy at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who explained that "the federal government has both the plenary power and the power of the 1980 Refugee Act to place refugees anywhere in the country":
Experts say that while the states may not have the legal authority to block their borders, state agencies have authority to make the process of accepting refugees much more difficult.
"When push comes to shove, the federal government has both the plenary power and the power of the 1980 Refugee Act to place refugees anywhere in the country," said Kevin Appleby, the director of migration policy at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the largest refugee resettlement organization in the country.
Appleby said one thing the states could do was to cut their own funding in the area.
American University law professor Stephen I. Vladeck put it this way: "Legally, states have no authority to do anything because the question of who should be allowed in this country is one that the Constitution commits to the federal government." [CNN, 11/16/15]
Yahoo News: Legally, The Governors Opposing Refugee Resettlement Are "Standing On Shaky Ground." On November 16, Yahoo News Senior National Affairs Reporter Liz Goodwin wrote that "there is no legal way for [governors] to prevent refugee resettlement" and that "their opposition is largely symbolic":
These governors are likely standing on shaky ground, as there is no legal way for them to prevent refugee resettlement, according to multiple experts. And their opposition is largely symbolic, since once Syrians (or any refugees) are in the U.S., they have the right to travel anywhere they want, just like any other resident. If the Obama administration wanted to challenge these governors on their threats, they would handily beat them in court, experts say.
Lavinia Limon, former director of the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement under Pres. Bill Clinton, said these governors misunderstand the Constitution.
"It's really a question of fundamental freedoms," Limon said. "If you're legally residing in the United States, you have the right to move wherever you wish to. We could resettle a refugee in New York City today, and tomorrow they could decide to move to Dallas." [Yahoo News, 11/16/15]
ThinkProgress: "There Is No Lawful Means That Permits A State Government To Dictate Immigration Policy." On November 16 ThinkProgress pointed out that governors "do not get to overrule the federal government" on matters of immigration and refugee resettlement. ThinkProgress noted that "President Obama has explicit statutory authorization to accept foreign refugees into the United States," citing the Refugee Act of 1980:
[T]here is no lawful means that permits a state government to dictate immigration policy to the president in this way. As the Supreme Court explained inHines v. Davidowitz, "the supremacy of the national power in the general field of foreign affairs, including power over immigration, naturalization and deportation, is made clear by the Constitution." States do not get to overrule the federal government on matters such as this one.
Just in case there is any doubt, President Obama has explicit statutory authorization to accept foreign refugees into the United States. Under the Refugee Act of 1980, the president may admit refugees who face "persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion" into the United States, and the president's power to do so is particularly robust if they determine that an "unforeseen emergency refugee situation" such as the Syrian refugee crisis exists.
This power to admit refugees fits within the scheme of "broad discretion exercised by immigration officials" that the Supreme Court recognized in its most recent major immigration case,Arizona v. United States. Indeed, in describing the executive branch's broad authority to make discretionary calls regarding immigration matters,Arizonaseemed to explicitly contemplate the circumstances that face President Obama today. The United States may wish to allow a foreign national to remain within its borders, the Court explained, because the individual's home nation "may be mired in civil war, complicit in political persecution, or enduring conditions that create a real risk that the alien or his family will be harmed upon return."
Moreover, the Court explained, America could suffer severe foreign policy consequences if the executive does not enjoy broad discretion over immigration matters. "The dynamic nature of relations with other countries," Justice Anthony Kennedy explained in his opinion for the Court in Arizona, "requires the Executive Branch to ensure that enforcement policies are consistent with this Nation's foreign policy with respect to these and other realities." [ThinkProgress, 11/16/15]
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