GOP governors and lawmakers draw the line on allowing Syrian refugees into their states
France reiterates country's "humanitarian duty" to welcome 30,000 refugees over two years
In the wake of the deadliest violence visited on France since World War II, the United States and its longtime ally are both struggling with how to handle a massive influx of Syrian refugees.
Less than a week after terrorists connected to ISIS slaughtered 129 people on the streets of Paris, some GOP governors and lawmakers in the United States have stated their opposition to allowing Syrian refugees into their states.
Across the Atlantic, amid reports that one of the Paris attackers entered Europe as part of the wave of Syrians fleeing civil war, French President Francois Hollande declared war on ISIS, but reiterated his country’s “humanitarian duty” to welcome 30,000 refugees over the next two years.
“We have to make the necessary checks before accepting refugees on our soil,” he said.
France has already accepted at least 6,700 Syrian refugees.
American opposition is led in part by Republican presidential contenders seeking to project a firm stance on national security following the Paris massacre.
In Washington, the House easily passed a bill Thursday that would suspend the program allowing Syrian and Iraqi refugees into the U.S. until key national security agencies certify they don’t pose a security risk. The 289-137 vote – with 47 Democrats joining 242 Republicans in favor – created a majority that could override President Barack Obama’s promised veto.
During a trip abroad this week, Obama defended the resettlement program and derided Republican opponents as being scared of “widows and orphans.”
“We are not well served when, in response to a terrorist attack, we descend into fear and panic,” Obama said in the Philippines on Wednesday. “We don’t make good decisions if it’s based on hysteria or an exaggeration of risks.”
FBI Director James Comey has expressed deep concerns about the bill, two U.S. officials told CNN.
Comey has told administration and congressional officials that the legislation would make it impossible to allow any refugees into the U.S., and could even affect the ability of travelers from about three dozen countries that are allowed easier travel to the U.S. under the visa waiver program, according to the officials.
More than half of America’s governors have voiced opposition to letting Syrian refugees into their states even though the final say on the matter falls to the federal government.
From New Hampshire to Arizona, all but one of the 31 states protesting the admission of refugees have Republican governors.
The new poll found that 53% of American adults don’t want Syrian refugees resettled in the U.S., while 28% say the Obama administration should proceed with its plan to accept 10,000 refugees next year without religious screening, and 11% say only Christians from Syria should be allowed in.
The poll, conducted November 16-17, found a split along partisan lines.
Among Republicans, just 12% agree with resetting Syrian refugees in the U.S., while 69% want the resettlement program ended. Among Democrats, however, 46% would continue the program while 36% would shut it down.
Obama on Monday told reporters the United States must remain committed to tolerance.
“The people who are fleeing Syria are the most harmed by terrorism,” Obama said in Antalya, Turkey, at a meeting of the G20.
“It is very important … that we do not close our hearts to these victims of such violence and somehow start equating the issue of refugees with the issue of terrorism.”
More than 250,000 people have died since the violence broke out in Syria in 2011, and at least 11 million people in the country of 22 million have fled their homes.
Syrians are now the world’s largest refugee population, according to the United Nations. Most are struggling to find safe haven in Europe.
“When I hear folks say that maybe we should just admit the Christians and not the Muslims (refugees), when I hear political leaders suggesting that there would be a religious test for which person who’s fleeing from a war-torn country is admitted – when some of those folks themselves come from families who benefited from protection when they were fleeing political persecution – that’s shameful. That’s not American,” Obama said.
The Obama administration is “steadfastly committed” to the Syrian resettlement program, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said this week.
Federal officials are taking “seriously” the states’ concerns, but he’s not sure whether they have the legal authority to block the program, Toner said.
The United States has accepted 2,178 Syrian refugees since the civil war began there in March 2011, but the Obama administration announced in September that 10,000 Syrians will be allowed entry next year.
The refugees have been admitted to 138 cities and towns in a total of 36 states – with California, Texas, Michigan, Arizona and Illinois taking the most, according to wrapsnet.org, where the U.S. government keeps its official numbers.
Louisiana has seen 14 Syrian refugees located there. Ohio has 76 relocated Syrians, while New Jersey, led by 2016 GOP contender Chris Christie, has 88.
The 14 states that have admitted no refugees are Alabama, Alaska, Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming, as well as the District of Columbia.
The authority to admit refugees into the U.S. rests with the federal government, not the states, though individual states can make the acceptance process much more difficult, according to experts.
Republican presidential candidates and lawmakers have warned that terrorists could use the resettlement program to sneak into the United States with the Syrian refugees.
Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana has already signed a state executive order barring the resettlement of Syrian refugees there.
He vowed that the state will use “all lawful means” to block refugees from entering Louisiana and authorized the state police to monitor any who are already there.
Jindal’s executive order says that “it is foreseeable that the introduction of Syrian refugees into the United States without proper prior screening and follow-up monitoring could result in a threat to the citizens and property of this state.”
The governors of Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin have also moved to stop Syrian refugees from coming into their states.
In France, meanwhile, five of the nine attackers have already been identified by authorities as French citizens. Three of the attackers have not yet been named or identified and one attacker’s body was found with a fake Syrian passport.
CNN’s Ashley Fantz, Ben Brumfeld, Eric Bradner, Ted Barrett, Evan Perez, Paul Frysh and Deirdre Walsh contributed to this story.