CHICAGO TRIBUNE: Experts say states lack legal authority to block refugees


TRIBUNE — Governors across the U.S. have threatened to stop accepting Syrian refugees following last week’s attacks in Paris, even as experts counter they lack legal authority to block the relocations.

Meanwhile, President Barack Obama, whose administration recently pledged to accept about 10,000 Syrian refugees, argued Monday that the United States needs to allow them because many are fleeing terrorism.

Some state leaders disagree with Obama’s assertion the country can simultaneously welcome refugees seeking safety and ensure citizens’ security. Several have called for a complete halt to resettlement, others for temporary delays and a few seek more information from federal officials on the vetting process.

The Homeland Security Department says refugees face the highest level of security screening of anybody entering the U.S., but officials will work to allay states’ concerns.

Here’s a look at why some states are balking, what federal officials and refugee experts are saying and how the refugee resettlement process works.

WHAT ARE THE STATES’ PRIMARY CONCERNS AND WHAT ARE THEY CALLING FOR?

Governors in many states, mainly Republicans, are responding to heightened concerns terrorists might use the refugees as cover to sneak across borders. Authorities said a Syrian passport was found near one of the attackers in Friday’s deadly attacks, and the Paris prosecutors’ office says fingerprints from the attacker match those of someone who passed through Greece in October.

The governors of several states are calling for the temporary suspension of accepting new refugees. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott ordered Texas’ refugee resettlement program not to accept any more Syrians and in a letter to Obama, the Republican also urged scrapping federal plans to accept more Syrian refugees into the country as a whole. He said the federal government can’t perform “proper security checks” on Syrians.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey called for an immediate halt and wrote he was “invoking our state’s right … to receive immediate consultation by federal authorities” to address the state’s concerns. Iowa GOP Gov. Terry Branstad acknowledged governors might lack authority but added he wants more information about refugee placement and the vetting process.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil rights group, called the governors’ comments and recommendations “un-American,” adding that rejecting refugees projects “our fears to the world.”

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