WASHINGTON -- More than half of the nation's governors have called on the U.S. to stop admitting Syrian refugees, most of them promising to do everything in their power to prevent them from entering their states.
The governors represent Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin. All are Republicans except for Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, a Democrat.
While most pledged to block Syrian refugees from entering their states, Florida Gov. Rick Scott said he doesn't think he has the authority to keep the federal government from resettling them. Hassan called for the U.S. to stop admitting Syrian refugees entirely, but her spokesman said she could not block their resettlement in New Hampshire. Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin similarly said there should be a moratorium on admitting Syrian refugees but stopped short of saying her state would try to reject them.
All of the governors cited last week's terrorist attacks in Paris, which the Islamic State, also called ISIS, took credit for. Authorities found a Syrian passport near one of the suicide bombers there, although it has yet to be confirmed whether it belonged to the attacker, or whether it was stolen or a forgery. French authorities said the mastermind of the attacks was a Belgian man.
The attacks set off a backlash against Syrian refugees. In Europe, Poland's future minister for European affairs said the country will not implement the European Union's refugee plan in light of the attacks in Paris. In the U.S., calls to limit refugee admissions have come mostly from Republicans -- many of whom had expressed concerns about admitting Muslims from Syria in the first place.
The Obama administration plans to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees this fiscal year, all of whom will undergo security screenings that typically take 18 to 24 months. Refugees go through more extensive screening than any other group, such as tourists, students and people who cross the border.
Republicans argue, though, that those screenings are not enough and terrorists will exploit the system. It's not clear that governors can actually block certain types of refugees -- if nothing else, it would likely prompt discrimination lawsuits, and refugees are allowed to move once they arrive in the U.S., so it would be difficult to stop them from moving to their states on their own. But the governors said they can and will keep those refugees out.
The State Department, which handles refugee resettlement, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether states have the ability to block a certain type of refugees.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who is running for president, told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt he wants to keep out Syrian refugees, even if they're orphan children.
"The fact is that we need appropriate vetting, and I don’t think orphans under five are being, you know, should be admitted into the United States at this point," Christie said. "In the end, I don’t trust this administration to effectively vet the people that they’re asking us to take in. We need to put the safety and security of the American people first."
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, another presidential candidate, issued an executive order on Monday authorizing his government "to utilize all lawful means" to block Syrian refugees from resettling in the state.
He also instructed and authorized state police "to utilize all lawful means to monitor and avert threats within the State of Louisiana" if notified of Syrian refugees already living in the state.
A third Republican presidential candidate, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, wrote to the president on Monday asking him to stop sending Syrians to the state.
Hours after saying she supported allowing Syrian refugees to resettle in South Carolina, Gov. Nikki Haley flip-flopped and announced she had written to the government to say she does not want them.
In Michigan, where many Syrians have already resettled, Gov. Rick Snyder also said he would aim to keep refugees out of the country.
"Michigan is a welcoming state and we are proud of our rich history of immigration," Snyder said in a statement. "But our first priority is protecting the safety of our residents."
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence similarly played up the state's traditional welcoming nature when saying Syrian refugees would be rejected. He said Monday that he was directing state agencies to stop admitting Syrian refugees "pending assurances from the federal government that proper security measures have been achieved."
"Indiana has a long tradition of opening our arms and homes to refugees from around the world but, as governor, my first responsibility is to ensure the safety and security of all Hoosiers," he said. "Unless and until the state of Indiana receives assurances that proper security measures are in place, this policy will remain in full force and effect.”
Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner said Monday he will "temporarily suspend" efforts to admit Syrian refugees, while also talking about the state and country's "shared history of providing safe haven for those displaced by conflict."
"We must find a way to balance our tradition as a state welcoming of refugees while ensuring the safety and security of our citizens," he said.
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, who previously said he was open to helping resettle Syrians, now says he is "not interested."
"I would say no as of right now," he told reporters on Monday. "No, I’m not interested in accepting refugees from Syria."
North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory announced Monday that he is asking the government to stop sending Syrian refugees to his state. He said 59 Syrian refugees had been resettled there already and the state received too little information about them.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott sent President Barack Obama a letter telling him his state would not welcome Syrians and urging him to halt plans to admit more of them into the U.S. Abbott argued that any Syrian might be connected to terrorism.
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter said in a statement that it makes no sense "to allow people into our country who have the avowed desire to harm our communities, our institutions and our people." He said he would "use any legal means available" to block Syrian refugee resettlement in the state.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker joined the chorus on Monday afternoon.
"There may be those who will try to take advantage of the generosity of our country and the ability to move freely within our borders through this federal resettlement program, and we must ensure we are doing all we can to safeguard the security of Americans," he said in a statement.
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey took the most extreme approach -- he announced he will oppose the resettlement of all refugees in his state, not just those from Syria.
Others were more moderate. Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) said Monday he wants the White House to review how it screens refugees, but did not say he would try to block Syrians from his state.
Some governors, including Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy (D), Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D), went in the opposite direction, affirming Monday they will welcome Syrian refugees.
"Our first priority remains the safety of our residents," Hickenlooper said in a statement. "We will work with the federal government and Homeland Security to ensure the national verification processes for refugees are as stringent as possible. We can protect our security and provide a place where the world's most vulnerable can rebuild their lives."
Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear (D) also said his state would continue to admit Syrian refugees. But he will soon be replaced by incoming Gov. Matt Bevin (R), who said he would reject them.
Obama said Monday he remained committed to taking in Syrian refugees, but they must go through rigorous screening.
He said people must "remember that many of these refugees are the victims of terrorism themselves."
"That's what they're fleeing," he said during a press conference in Turkey. "Slamming the door in their faces would be a betrayal of our values. Our nations can welcome refugees who are desperately seeking safety and ensure our own security. We can and must do both."
This post has been updated with additional statements from governors.
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