• Experts say states lack legal authority to block refugees

    By: Jenna Deery


    CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Critics are firing back at calls to turn Syrian refugees away from the Carolinas from governors of North and South Carolina.

    Immigrants are subject to federal law and immigration attorneys said the comments of Gov. Pat McCrory on Monday have no merit.

    During a press conference in Charlotte, he sent a message to Washington.

    "I'm now requesting that the president and federal government cease sending refugees from Syria to North Carolina," said McCrory.

    McCrory joined 27 other governors including Gov. Nikki Haley from South Carolina in the call to block Syrian refugees from relocation in their states. They said the reason for the call where based off of concern for public safety following the terrorist attacks in Paris last week. It's been reported a suicide bomber in the attack used a Syrian passport to enter France.

    "These states cannot do anything with regards to federal immigration law," said Mo Idlibby, a Syrian born immigration attorney in Charlotte. "You say, 'Ok, so where's the substance in what you are talking about?' There is none."

    There is a long screening process to ensure dangerous people aren't coming to the states.

    It starts with the United Nations then heads to the Department of State, followed by Homeland Security before screening happens at the state level. It can take years to get through the process.

    Charlotte Mayor-elect Jennifer Roberts told Channel 9 she understands the state's concern for public safety but wants to make sure the city isn't sending the wrong message to refugees.

    "If there are people who are truly fleeing the same terrorism and violence and have the same perspective and have been screened then we should be welcoming," Roberts said.

    President Barack Obama called any attempts to block Syrian immigrants shameful.

    McCrory said he's still working on a plan B if the president refuses to go along with his request.


    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."


    Lavinia Limon, president and CEO of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigration, said under the Refugee Act of 1980 governors cannot legally block refugees. Each state has a refugee coordinator, a post created as part of that law, she said. Funded by the federal government, the post coordinates resettlement efforts with agencies such as hers and directs federal funds for refugees.

    Westy Egmont, director of Boston College's Immigrant Integration Lab, said the law previously withstood state challenges partly because the federal government has worked to equally distribute refugees being resettled. Some states have worked with resettlement agencies to limit new refugee arrivals to those with family ties to the community while families or individuals with no ties to a specific state have been sent to other locations with better prospects for jobs, housing and integration programs.


    The Obama administration has pledged to accept about 10,000 Syrian refugees in the next 12 months. The State Department said the refugees would be spread nationwide, though many go on to places where they have family or cultural connections, such as Detroit, New York, Chicago or Los Angeles.

    According to government statistics, the U.S. has taken about 2,150 Syrians since Oct. 1, 2011 — most in the last year.

    Obama said Monday the U.S. needs to continue to accept refugees from Syria because many are fleeing terrorism: "Our nations can welcome refugees who are desperately seeking safety and ensure our own security. We can and must do both."

    Refugees are generally invited to move to the United States after being referred to a State Department Resettlement Support Center by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. In some cases they can be referred by a U.S. embassy or non-governmental agency.

    In other cases, potential refugees who are close relatives of people granted asylum in the U.S. or other refugees already in the country can apply directly with the U.S. government. The average wait time for a refugee to be cleared to enter the U.S. is about two years, but often longer for people from Syria and elsewhere.

    The Homeland Security Department said refugees being accepted into the United States are subject to the highest level of security screening of anyone coming to the U.S. It added officials will continue to consult with states to allay concerns they have about security.


    Republican members of Congress called for suspending the Syrian refugee program and threatened to try to stop it. New House Speaker Paul Ryan neither endorsed nor rejected that course.

    Many GOP candidates, already skeptical if not hostile to welcoming refugees, came out even stronger. Donald Trump said the U.S. should increase surveillance of mosques, consider closing any tied to radicals and be prepared to suspend some civil liberties.

    Ben Carson said, "Until we can sort out the bad guys, we must not be foolish," and of Syrians already in the U.S., he added: "I would watch them very carefully."

    Calls by GOP rivals Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush to give preference to Christian refugees prompted a sharp rebuke from Obama.

    The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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