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30 Governors Call For Halt To U.S. Resettlement Of Syrian Refugees

Updated at 3:32 p.m. ET

Governors in 30 states across the country have now publicly asked for the resettlement of Syrian refugees to stop until security concerns can be addressed.

Those states include: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

All but one of those states has a Republican governor, with New Hampshire's Maggie Hassan as the lone Democrat.

Their objections rolled in by the hour yesterday, with some offering simple objections to refugees coming into their states and others issuing executive orders that instructed state agencies to do what they can to block Syrian refugees from being resettled in their states.

A senior Obama administration official said that a call was planned with governors and mayors across the country at some point on Tuesday.

It's not clear that governors have authority in this area given that immigration is a federal matter. When asked about it yesterday, State Department Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner said, "I think our lawyer is looking at that."

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, one of 25 Republicans raising such objections, originally said yesterday, "I don't know that the states have the authority to decide whether or not we can take refugees."

Later in the day, Branstad put out a statement saying, "Until a thorough and thoughtful review is conducted by the intelligence community and the safety of Iowans can be assured, the federal government should not resettle any Syrian refugees in Iowa."

As we've reported, the Obama administration has pledged to bring in 10,000 refugees over the next year. So far, fewer than 2,000 have come in. The numbers remain relatively low because of the arduous security screening process that's in place, with coordination among federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

Administration officials say those procedures involve a review of all known biographical and biometric data. For Syrian refugees, there is a special layer of screening that includes in-person interviews with specially-trained staff to elicit testimony credibly. On average, it takes a Syrian refugee 18-24 months to gain admittance into the U.S.

Advocates for refugees have sharply criticized the governors' statements. Alison Parker of Human Rights Watch said, "The governors' announcements amount to fear-mongering attempts to block Syrians from joining the generous religious groups and communities who step forward to welcome them."

Presidential candidates have also weighed in, with Florida Sen. Marco Rubio telling ABC News on Sunday, "There is no background-check system in the world that allows us to find that out, because who do you call in Syria to background-check them?"

There are two Republican governors who are not asking for a pause on resettlements.

Utah's Republican Gov. Gary Herbert released a statement through his spokesman to the Salt Lake Tribune: "Utahns are well known for our compassion for those who are fleeing the violence in their homeland, and we will work to do all we can to ease their suffering without compromising public safety."

South Dakota's Republican Gov. Dennis Daugaard's chief of staff told the Argus Leader newspaper, "South Dakota has not received any Syrian refugees, and we do not believe we are going to."

Several Democratic governors affirmed that their states remain open to refugees from Syria, including those of Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Washington and Hawaii.

A spokesman for Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy, a Democrat, toldthe Hartford Courant, "We are continuing to work with and await guidance from the appropriate federal agencies on screening measures that will be taken. With that said, if refugees — many who are children fleeing a horrific, war-torn country — seek and are granted asylum after a rigorous security process, we should and will welcome them in Connecticut."

So on both sides of the aisle, there are calls for further explanation from federal officials about how the screening process works. And from the states, this debate will quickly move to Congress, where House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., called for a pause on Syrian refugees and Republican lawmakers put together a task force on the issue.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Arnie Seipel
Arnie Seipel is the Deputy Washington Editor for NPR. He oversees daily news coverage of politics and the inner workings of the federal government. Prior to this role, he edited politics coverage for seven years, leading NPR's reporting on the 2016, 2018 and 2020 elections. In between campaigns, Seipel edited coverage of Congress and the White House, and he coordinated coverage of major events including State of the Union addresses, Supreme Court confirmations and congressional hearings.