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White House refuses Bentley’s request for classified info on Syrian refugees coming to Alabama

President Barack Obama speaks on the phone in the Oval Office while Denis McDonough looks on (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
President Barack Obama speaks on the phone in the Oval Office while Denis McDonough looks on (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Top White House officials refused requests from Alabama Governor Robert Bentley to be granted access to classified information about Syrian refugees slated to be resettled in Mobile.

Bentley and roughly a dozen other governors participated in a conference call with senior White House aides Tuesday night. According to Bloomberg, Obama administration officials on the call included White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, State Department official Simon Henshaw, FBI official John Giacalone, and the deputy director of the National Counterterrorism Center John Mulligan.

“While the White House attempted to share information with governors who have refused the relocation of Syrian refugees out of concern for their state’s security, there were few questions answered by the Obama Administration,” Governor Bentley said of the call. “In a letter to the President yesterday, I expressed my frustration over the lack of information provided to states on how Syrian refugees are vetted. Other Governors shared those same concerns on the call with the White House. Governors expressed frustration over the failure to communicate with states.”

According to the U.S. State Department, more than 100 Syrian refugees could soon be housed by Catholic Social Services in Mobile. In the wake of the Paris terror attacks, roughly 30 governors, including Governor Bentley, announced their states would refuse to accept Syrian refugees, at least until the federal government could ensure the vetting process is fail-safe.

Alabama Congressman Bradley Byrne (R-AL1) received a classified briefing on the screening process, but walked away convinced it is not thorough enough. He has since then introduced legislation to “eliminate all funding” for the refugee resettlement program.

Two Democratic governor joined about ten Republicans on the phone call with the White House on Tuesday.
New Hampshire’s Democratic governor Maggie Hassan reportedly expressed anger that governors are not being notified when Syrian refugees are placed in their states. White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough responded by saying there was not a process in place by which states could obtain such information. According to Bloomberg, Florida governor Rick Scott bluntly asked McDonough if states could simply opt out of accepting the refugees. McDonough said no.

Governor Bentley said the Obama administration has conceded it can often be difficult to vet refugees seeking entrance into the United States from the Middle East. They do not, however, feel there is a need to modify the current process.

“Federal officials admitted the refugee process is flawed and outdated and may need to be revised given the terrorists attacks in Paris,” he said. “Despite Tuesday’s call, I still have strong concerns on the vetting process of Syrian refugees. I am joining fellow governors this week to discuss this important issue at the Republican Governors Association Annual Conference. I will continue to press the Obama Administration for answers and will keep the safety and security of Alabamians a top priority.”

1. Byrne introduces bill to ‘eliminate all funding’ for Syrian refugee resettlement
2. More than 100 Syrian refugees could soon be in Mobile, given Medicaid and food stamps
3. Bentley to Obama: Evil exists, Alabama cannot risk accepting Syrian refugees
4. Shelby, Sessions tag-team Obama’s Syrian refugee program, move to revoke its funding
5. Bentley: Use ‘all lawful means necessary’ to keep Syrian refugees out of Alabama
6. Legal experts disagree on whether Alabama has a right to refuse Syrian refugees
7. Map shows Alabama has already received hundreds of Middle East refugees in recent years
8. Sessions moves to revoke funding for Syrian refugee resettlement
9. Condoleezza Rice sums up why allowing Syrian refugees into Alabama is a bad idea