In the wake of the Paris attacks, more than half of the governors across the nation released statements vowing to refuse Syrian refugees entrance into their state. The number continues to grow.
Right here in Pickens County, the county Council unanimously voted to approve a motion to “not participate in the Refugee Resettlement Program” back in October. But here’s the problem: it’s not up to them. Or you. Or the governor.
The Refugee Act of 1980 gives the president of the United States the power to “admit refugees who face persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion” – no matter what the opinion of state and local governments.
The buck, as they say, stops there.
In a letter to Secretary John Kerry, S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley stated that she had “concerns with the vetting process with refugees from conflict-zones, specifically Syria” and requested that the State Department not resettle any Syrian refugees in South Carolina until she could “be assured that all potential refugees from Syria have no ties to terrorist organizations.”
During a CBS interview broadcast on Nov. 17, constitutional law professor at the University of Michigan law school Richard Primus explained why (all of) the dissenting governor’s letters are moot.
“Immigration law is federal, states are not supposed to engage in foreign relations or in diplomacy,” said Primus. “States can do things that make themselves attractive or unattractive as destinations for immigrants … But (the state of Michigan) could not, for example, say, ‘We disapprove of the government of Myanmar, and so we boycott Myanmar as Michigan.’
“That’s the federal government’s job, and when states have tired to do things like that, the courts have said, ‘No way.’”
A 2012 Supreme Court decision, Arizona v. United States, reaffirmed the federal government’s authority over the states on immigration matters.
Supreme Court Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion affirmed an expansive view of the United States Government’s authority to regulate immigration, describing it as “broad” and “undoubted.”
That authority derived from the legislative power of Congress to “establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization,” clearly stated in the Constitution, as well as the long-standing interpretation of federal sovereignty in areas concerning the control and conduct of relations with foreign countries.
“In this context,” Kennedy’s opinion read, “federal discretion as to whether or how immigration laws are enforced is an important component of Congressional authority.”
Cecillia Wang of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said in a recently released statement that politicians were fabricating a link between the Paris attacks and the Syrian refugee resettlements in the states.
“Making policy based on this fear mongering is wrong for two reasons,” she said. “It is factually wrong for blaming refugees for the very terror they are fleeing, and it is legally wrong because it violates our laws and the values on which our country was founded.”
An Associated Press article published by PBS Newshour stated that Syrians initially file refugee claims with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which then refers them to the U.S. government.
Because the immigration process has no guarantee of approval and takes so long (Syrians wait an average of nearly three years for approval to come to the U.S.) experts have stated that it would be a longshot for an extremist group to rely on the refugee program as a way to “sneak” someone into the United States.
The United States annually accepts roughly 70,000 refugees from all over the globe. President Obama has stated that the number will increase to 85,000 for the coming year, including 10,000 refugees from Syria.
Since 2011, 2,500 Syrian refugees have already been relocated to the United States.