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Alabama sues feds for breaking law by placing refugees in states without consulting them first

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (Photo: Governor's Office, Daniel Sparkman)
Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (Photo: Governor’s Office, Daniel Sparkman)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Governor Robert Bentley on Thursday announced the State of Alabama has filed a lawsuit against the federal government for failing to comply with the Refugee Act of 1980, which specifically requires the federal government to consult with states before placing refugees within their borders. According to the Bentley administration, that consultation with Alabama has not occurred.

The lawsuit charges that the U.S government agencies named as defendants have failed to provide the State of Alabama with sufficient information about the refugees who have settled or will be settled in the state.

In November of last year, Bentley became the second governor in the country to announce his state would not accept Syrian refugees through the federal government’s refugee resettlement program, citing security concerns and flaws in the refugee vetting process.

Governor Bentley has since pressed the Obama Administration for information regarding the refugee resettlement program, but says he has been rebuffed. In particular, top White House officials refused his requests to be granted access to classified information about refugees slated to be resettled in Mobile.

“On three separate occasions I have sent letters to the White House requesting information on the Refugee Reception Program in Alabama and these letters have gone unanswered,” Bentley said. “As Governor, the Alabama Constitution gives me the sovereign authority and solemn duty to protect the health, safety and welfare of all citizens of Alabama. The process and manner in which the Obama Administration and the federal government are executing the Refugee Reception Program is blatantly excluding the states.”

The Bentley administration believes the failure to provide the information they requested has inhibited Alabama from being able to adequately plan for the arrival of any refugees in regards to such matters as security, requests for social services and public assistance.

According to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the State Department will provide $1,850 per refugee for the first three months of assistance, to be used for reception, initial housing, food, clothing, referrals services and social programs.

If the refugees are not able to find a job in those first three months, or are precluded from doing so due to a disability, they are eligible for many welfare programs, including Temporary Aid for Needy Families (TANF), Medicaid, SNAP (food stamps), and Supplemental Security Income.

This action is in regard to consultation with respect to all refugees the federal government has settled or intends to settle in Alabama, not just those from Syria.

The lawsuit filed Thursday, which is in regard to all refugees the federal government has settled or intends to settle in Alabama, not just those from Syria, asks the court to award the following relief:

— A declaration that the defendants have breached their consultation duties and obligations to the State of Alabama under the Refugee Act of 1980.
— A complete file on each of the refugees to include medical history.
— Certification that the refugees pose no security risk.
— A declaration that the defendants may not place refugees within the state unless they have fulfilled those duties and obligations to the State of Alabama.

“My number one concern is the safety for the people of Alabama and making sure an outdated, archaic and dangerous process that excludes the states is eliminated,” Governor Bentley said. “We simply cannot have a federal program that impacts states yet doesn’t allow states access to critical information. By filing suit, my goal is to reform the way the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the State Department handle the Refugee Resettlement Program” to ensure our State receives critical information.

Defendants named in the lawsuit include the U.S. State Department, The State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and HHS’s Office of Refugee Resettlement.

A copy of the complaint can be found here.