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US governors balk at Syrian refugees after Paris attacks

The US is accepting only a small fraction of Syrian refugees compared with other countries

In the wake of the Paris attacks, a growing number of U.S. governors are expressing doubts about letting in any of the small number of Syrian refugees expected to come to the United States.

By Monday evening, statements of opposition to welcoming refugees fleeing Syria’s five-year-old civil war had come from governors of 26 states: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin.

Some of the governors added the caveat that they want to suspend refugee intake until the security process for vetting the migrants is reviewed.

The governor of Iowa expressed doubts about accepting Syrian refugees, but acknowledged that he was unsure if he could stop it.  

"I don’t know that the states have the authority to decide whether or not we can take refugees. This is a federal program,” Gov. Terry Branstad said at his weekly news conference, The Gazette, a local news source reported.

The governors of Colorado, Connecticut, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Vermont, in contrast, said Monday that they would accept refugees from Syria. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley originally said her state would accept refugees, but later changed her position.

California Gov. Jerry Brown said he'll work closely with President Barack Obama to ensure any Syrian refugees coming to California are "fully vetted in a sophisticated and utterly reliable way." 

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon said Monday that it was up to federal agencies whether to admit Syrian refugees, but that he was calling on them to "implement the strongest possible safeguards to protect our state and nation."

Governors weren't the only ones taking a stand against refugees. In Congress, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, a GOP presidential candidate, has introduced a bill to suspend the issuance of visas for "countries with a high risk of terrorism."

In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott referred to Friday's violence in France when he wrote to President Obama on Monday that Texas “will not accept any refugees from Syria in the wake of the deadly terrorist attack in Paris …  A Syrian ‘refugee’ appears to have been part of the Paris terror attack.”

Abbott was apparently referring to the Syrian passport found near a suicide bomber who blew himself up outside the national soccer stadium in Paris. The passport belonged to someone named Ahmad Al Mohammad, a 25-year-old born in the Syrian city of Idlib.

On Sunday, Greek authorities confirmed that the holder of the passport had registered as a refugee on Oct. 3. Greek police said in a statement Sunday that the man registered as entering Europe via Greece, but added it was possible the passport had changed hands since then. 

More than 4 million Syrians have fled the country as refugees over the past several years, according to the U.N.

Europe is grappling with how to resettle many who have arrived there. Between April 2011 and October 2015, the European Union has received 681,713 asylum applications from Syrians, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

In comparison, a very small number have come to the U.S.

Since January 2014, 2,058 Syrian refugees have arrived in the U.S. Nearly half, 44 percent, were children under 14.

The Obama administration has said it will bring 10,000 Syrian refugees into the U.S. by the end of 2016. 

It is unclear if a state governor can block the placement of refugees in his or her state.

The American Civil Liberties Union said in a tweet Monday that, "It violates the Constitution for a governor to bar an entire group of refugees from coming into their states because of their nationality."

Similarly, Lavinia Limon, head of the U.S Committee for Refugees and Immigration, said that under the Refugee Act of 1980, governors cannot legally block refugees from settling in their communities.

Obama on Monday warned of Islamophobia following the Paris attacks.

Speaking from Turkey at a meeting of the Group of 20 industrialized and developing countries, Obama said, "Whether you are European or American, the values that we are defending — the values that we're fighting against ISIL for are precisely that we don’t discriminate against people because of their faith.

"We don’t kill people because they are different from us. That’s what separates us from them."

With wire services

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