In the aftermath of the Paris terror attacks, there was first an outpouring of worldwide grief. Upon the discovery that one of the attackers was carrying a Syrian passport, the largest movement of refugees since World War II became linked to the terror attacks. Never-mind that the provenance of the Syrian passport is in question. That development has spawned a cascading effect of knee jerk and hysterical responses from state governors in the United States who now wish to pull up the drawbridge to their state. Unfortunately for these governors, neither U.S. immigration or constitutional law is on their side.
In less than 48 hours after the Paris attacks in the United States, state governors crawled out of the woodwork to say that they would refuse any Syrian refugees who wished to resettled in their state because the threat they might pose to the citizenry of their respective states. By the end of Monday, November 16, more than half of the nation's governors, 27 state governors, had jumped on the bandwagon to proclaim their refusal to take Syrian refugees or to impose a religious litmus tests to only accept Christian refugees. Can the governors do this? Well, no. Several facts to consider:
1) The decision of whether to admit refugees and how many to admit to the United States is made at the federal level. States do not have input in that decision.
Also relevant, in actuality, the several year vetting process for Syrian refugees has meant that in the past 4 years, the U.S. has admitted about 2,200 Syrian refugees since the civil unrest began in that country. That number no where nearly approaches what our European allies have admitted.
Also, unlike Europe, the United States resettlement program follows a priority system in which we settle vulnerable refugees first: women, their children, and the elderly. The governors are losing their minds over THIS trickle of people.
2) Once admitted into the United States, the Refugee Act of 1980 details a role for the states, which is to work cooperatively with the federal government's Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). Susan Martin at Georgetown University, a nationally recognized refugee policy expert ,says that virtually all states have opted into this federal/state cooperative program. State refugee offices receive federal funds to cover Refugee Cash Assistance and Refugee Medical Assistance for those refugees who do not qualify for the more traditional Transitional Assistance to Needy Families, and Medicaid. So the states are receiving federal "filter through" funds to assist the refugees who settle there based on a formula and on a cost share basis.
Theoretically, states could choose not to financially aid any Syrian refugees that arrive in their state with these funds, but legal issues would arise because states cannot pick and choose which refugees to fund once the state has opted into working with ORR.
3) Once refugees arrive in the United States, they can move freely among all the 50 states. There is absolutely nothing state governors can do to stop refugees or any persons for that matter from moving around in the interior of the U.S. from state to state once they have been admitted. Are we to presume that the governors are going to deploy their national guard to ring the perimeter of their state to check the papers of all who cross state lines?
At the risk of beating a dead horse, Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols were hardly foreign terrorists, yet their actions were more deadly than Paris. They killed 168 people and injured 650 others. But there was no call after the deadly Oklahoma City bombing to round up 27 and 40 year old white, male, anti-government types and no calls to ban them from neighboring states.