Nonprofits, Aid Groups Rebuke Governors Over Refugee Crisis

After more than half of all U.S. governors said they would not allow Syrian refugees to relocate to their states, a number of advocacy and aid groups criticized the governors for what one nonprofit exec called "small-minded panic." Meanwhile, one legal group argued that the governors were overstepping their bounds.

The challenging politics of the Syrian refugee crisis have become even more so in the wake of last week’s deadly terror attacks in Paris.

And with many politicians in the U.S. pushing against allowing refugee resettlements in their states, advocacy and aid groups are using tough words to speak up for those who suddenly find the door to assistance closed in many U.S. states.

“If ISIS had hoped that their attacks in Paris would provoke the United States and its allies to react with small-minded panic, some governors are helping them get their wish,” Linda Hartke, the president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, told Reuters. Hartke’s organization has been involved in resettlement issues for more than 75 years.

The pushback is directly tied to the attacks in Paris on Friday night. One of the attackers was said to have a Syrian passport that was reportedly faked, allowing the attacker entry into Europe.

Since the discovery of the passport, governors in 27 states, nearly all Republican, have—with varying degrees of emphasis—said they would not allow Syrian refugees to resettle in their states, out of concern for the security of their citizens. Furthermore, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) has called for a “pause” in resettlement efforts, while politicians are eyeing the addition of new regulations to a federal spending bill that could lead to a government shutdown.

Federal rules limiting the ability of refugees to enter the U.S. could prove to be a sticking point for organizations offering aid, but at least one group says that individual states may be overreaching if they attempt to refuse Syrian refugees.

“States have absolutely no legal authority to bar someone who is granted refugee status from entering their state, since it’s federal law that determines whether someone is a refugee,” noted Greg Chen, director of advocacy for the American Immigration Lawyers Association, in comments to Business Insider.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, meanwhile, criticized the actions of the governors from a human rights perspective.

“Defeating ISIS involves projecting American ideals to the world. This un-American rejection of refugees, who will face significant security checks prior to entry, sends entirely the wrong message,” CAIR said in a statement. “Governors who reject those fleeing war and persecution abandon our ideals and instead project our fears to the world.”

It’s worth noting that while many Republican governors have come out against taking in refugees, not all have. One governor who has shied away from such a ban is Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, the current chairman of the National Governors Association. Herbert says his office is still analyzing the issue but has pledged that the state “will work to do all we can to ease their suffering without compromising public safety.”

Syrian refugees, shown going through a processing facility in Dobova, Slovenia last week. (iStock Editorial/Thinkstock)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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