What can governors really do about refugees?

DEREK, SYRIA – NOVEMBER 13: Yazidi refugees celebrate news of the liberation of their homeland of Sinjar from ISIL extremists, while at a refugee camp on November 13, 2015 in Derek, Rojava, Syria. Kurdish Peshmerga forces in Iraq say they have retaken Sinjar, with the help of airstrikes from U.S. led coalition warplanes. The Islamic State captured Sinjar in August 2014, killing many and sexually enslaving thousands of Yazidi women. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images) *** BESTPIX ***

More than half the nation’s governors, including Ohio Gov. John Kasich say they don’t want Syrian refugees coming to their states after the terrorist attacks in Paris last week.

Most of the governors say there is not time to background check the migrants and guarantee safety for U.S. citizens. President Barack Obama has taken on critics saying that the United States will take in the refugees and calls it the American thing to do.

Here’s a look at how the debate on this issue is shaping up and what authority governors really have on the issue:

Experts say the authority over refugees is decided at the federal, not the state level

According to a story today from CNN, authority over admitting refugees to the country, though, rests with the federal government, though individual states can make the acceptance process much more difficult, experts said.

American University law professor Stephen I. Vladeck put it this way: “Legally, states have no authority to do anything because the question of who should be allowed in this country is one that the Constitution commits to the federal government.” But Vladeck noted that without the state’s participation, the federal government would have a much more arduous task.

“So a state can’t say it is legally objecting, but it can refuse to cooperate, which makes thing much more difficult.”

Supreme Court has weighed in on this before

In the Hines v. Davidowitz case from 1941, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that “the supremacy of the national power in the general field of foreign affairs, including power over immigration, naturalization and deportation, is made clear by the Constitution.” In 2011 in Arizona v. United States, Justice Edward Kennedy wrote for the majority that “the government of the United States has broad, undoubted power over the subject of immigration and the status of aliens.”

The numbers are small, for now

Only 1,500 Syrian refugees have be taken in by the U.S. since 2011. That’s an average of 30 per state. The federal government though has said that 10,000 will be able to enter the country in 2016.

Administration says refugees are screened

When White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters that the U.S. would take in 10,000 refugees next year, he said the following:

“Refugees go through the most robust security process of anybody who’s contemplating travel to the United States,” Earnest said. “Refugees have to be screened by the National Counter Terrorism Center, by the F.B.I. Terrorist Screening Center. They go through databases that are maintained by D.H.S., the Department of Defense and the intelligence community. There is biographical and biometric information that is collected about these individuals.”

States could withhold money for refugees, but can’t stop them from coming

Kevin Appleby, director of migration policy at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told CNN one tactic states could use would be to cut funding for refugees.

But “when push comes to shove, the federal government has both the plenary power and the power of the 1980 Refugee Act to place refugees anywhere in the country,” Appleby said.


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