More than half the country's governors, citing security concerns, said they would refuse Syrian refugees

Published on November 17th, 2015

Molly Hennessy-Fiske and Lisa Mascaro
November 16, 2015
Los Angeles Times

A drumbeat of opposition against allowing Syrian refugees into the U.S. intensified Monday as more than half the country’s governors, citing security concerns, said they would refuse to accept Syrian refugees into their states following the Paris attacks, which President Obama said “would be a betrayal of our values.”

In addition to the mostly Republican governors, GOP members of Congress — including the chairmen of the Senate Armed Services, Senate Intelligence and House Homeland Security committees — have called for a halt to admitting Syrian refugees. A House Judiciary subcommittee will consider security concerns related to Syrian refugees later this week.

The issue gained political traction Monday as the world reeled from the horror of the Paris terrorist attacks, which killed at least 129 people in a string of bombings and shootings. Islamic State claimed responsibility for the coordinated Friday night assault on six locations.

By late Monday, states refusing Syrian refugees included Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin.

Kentucky's Republican governor-elect, who will take office next month, also refused. Governors noted that at least one of the Paris attackers had what appeared to be a Syrian passport.

“Given the tragic attacks in Paris and the threats we have already seen, Texas cannot participate in any program that will result in Syrian refugees — any one of whom could be connected to terrorism — being resettled in Texas,” Gov. Greg Abbott wrote in a letter to Obama on Monday.

Refugee and civil rights groups condemned the governors’ stance, which the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights group, called “un-American.”

Democratic governors in a dozen states committed to accepting Syrian refugees, including California Gov. Jerry Brown.

“I intend to work closely with the president so that he can both uphold America’s traditional role as a place of asylum, but also ensure that anyone seeking refuge in America is fully vetted in a sophisticated and utterly reliable way,” Brown said. “You can be sure that we will do everything in our power to protect the people of our state.”

The State Department plans to take in at least 10,000 Syrian refugees in the current fiscal year and believes it can fund the necessary screening process, although Congress could block the money.

Last fiscal year about 70,000 refugees were admitted to the U.S., 1,682 from Syria, according to the State Department. Of those, 179 were resettled in California. Two California regions already home to Syrian communities received the largest number — 50 in the Sacramento area and 53 in San Diego. At least 19 Syrians were resettled in the Los Angeles area, with two more last month in Pomona and Cypress, according to Martin Zogg, executive director of the Glendale-based International Rescue Committee in Los Angeles.

Each applicant undergoes medical exams, a security check and an in-person interview with immigration officers at the Department of Homeland Security. It can take two or more years for U.S. officials to process Syrian refugees' applications for resettlement, Zogg said.

“These people are fleeing the very type of violence we saw in Paris,” Zogg said.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, proposed blocking resettlement funds in the year-end spending bill until the intelligence community vets Syrian refugee screening. House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) said Monday that GOP leaders were still considering the option.

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