Shelby, Cruz team up on bill to allow Alabama, other states to refuse Syrian refugees
WASHINGTON — Alabama Senator Richard Shelby has signed on to co-sponsor a bill that would amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to permit governors to reject the resettlement of refugees in their state. Senator Ted Cruz (R-Tx.) is the primary sponsor of the bill, which is titled the State Refugee Security Act.
“First and foremost, I absolutely oppose bringing Syrian refugees into this country and believe that we must immediately halt the President’s reckless plans,” Shelby said. “We simply cannot trust this Administration to put in place the rigorous vetting system needed to ensure that the refugees who enter our nation will not be future threats to the American people and our way of life.
“This important, commonsense bill would ensure that our governors can opt out of accepting refugees should the Obama Administration continue with its dangerous Syrian refugee resettlement program,” he continued. “If President Obama continues to ignore the real threat of radical Islamic terrorism in this nation, we must do all in our power to give local officials the tools they need to protect the citizens of their state.”
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley made national headlines last month by announcing his administration will refuse entry to any Syrian refugees the Obama administration attempts to place in Alabama. But legal experts are split on whether Bentley and other governors have the legal authority to reject refugees.
The 30-plus governors who have joined Bentley in his stand are backed by armies of attorneys making the case that they are well within their legal right to do so.
The Obama administration disagrees, as the president has reaffirmed his commitment to bringing roughly 8,500 more refugees into the country during this fiscal year alone.
U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said last month that he is aware of the governors’ concerns, but added that the Obama administration “disagrees that these individuals, many of them frankly the most vulnerable from Syria and the region, represent any real threat.”
Florida’s Republican governor Rick Scott penned a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell asking Congress get involved because he “does not have the authority to prevent the federal government from funding the relocation of these Syrian refugees to Florida.”
David Leopold, an immigration attorney who has represented many refugees and asylum-seekers, told the Washington Post “governor(s) (have) no right to block anyone from coming. Resettlement is determined by the Department of State, and immigration is a completely federal matter.”
Leopold’s opinion is also shared by a handful of refugee agencies who discussed the issue with Yellowhammer on background.
Cruz and Shelby’s bill would put the dispute to rest by proactively affirming states’ right to refuse refugees slated to be placed within their borders by the federal government.
“This legislation will protect the authority of the states and the authority of the governors to keep their citizens safe,” said Senator Cruz. “Some 30 governors across the country have stood together… as one saying their obligation is to protect the safety and security of the citizens of Texas and the citizens of each of the states that have elected those governors. Those officials are doing their jobs. I applaud them… for honoring their commitments to the men and women who elected them. It is my hope that Congress will take up and pass into law the legislation that I introduced today that gives the governors the ability to opt out if the federal government is not sufficiently vetting refugees.”