The governors of Alabama, Arkansas, Michigan and Texas say they don’t want to accept Syrian refugees into their states.
The announcements came after authorities revealed that at least one of the suspects believed to be involved in the Paris terrorist attacks entered Europe among the current wave of Syrian refugees. He had falsely identified himself as a Syrian named Ahmad al Muhammad and was allowed to enter Greece in early October.
In announcing that his state would not accept any Syrian refugees, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted Monday on his personal account, “I demand the U.S. act similarly,” he said. “Security comes first.”
In a letter to President Barack Obama, Abbott said “American humanitarian compassion could be exploited to expose Americans to similar deadly danger,” referring to Friday’s deadly attacks in Paris.
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley also rejected the possibility of allowing Syrian refugees into his state, and connected refugees with potential terror threats.
“After full consideration of this weekend’s attacks of terror on innocent citizens in Paris, I will oppose any attempt to relocate Syrian refugees to Alabama through the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program,” Bentley said Sunday in a statement.
“As your Governor, I will not stand complicit to a policy that places the citizens of Alabama in harm’s way.”
There is currently no credible threat against the state, the governor’s office said, and no Syrian refugees have been relocated to Alabama so far.
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder was more conciliatory in his language, but still resisted receiving Syrian refugees. He said the state would “put on hold our efforts to accept new refugees.”
“Michigan is a welcoming state and we are proud of our rich history of immigration. But our first priority is protecting the safety of our residents,” he said in a statement.
Snyder demanded that the Department of Homeland Security review its security procedures for vetting refugees, but avoided blanket suspicion of people from any region.
“It’s also important to remember that these attacks are the efforts of extremists and do not reflect the peaceful ways of people of Middle Eastern descent here and around the world,” Snyder said.
And Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson posted on his official Twitter account that he would “oppose Syrian refugees being relocated to Arkansas.”
Growing anti-refugee sentiment
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.
Since the terror attacks in Paris and in Lebanon, there’s a sense that attitudes have, in some areas of the world, been turning against the millions of Syrian men, women and children who have been driven into destitution by a war that has lasted for four and a half years.
Several European countries have told them to stay out. Hungary built a razor-wire fence along its border, and neighboring countries have been following suit. And previously generous countries like Sweden and Germany that welcomed thousands were already pulling back.
Over the weekend, a handful of U.S. governors either opposed taking in any Syrian refugees being relocated as part of a national program or asked that they be particularly scrutinized as potential security threats.
Only 1,500 refugees have entered the United States since 2011, but the Obama administration announced in September that 10,000 Syrians will be allowed entry next year.
In response to the backlash against refugees, a Twitter hashtag “NotInMyName” began over the weekend and is gaining traction across social media.
Many on social media stressed that Islam is a religion of love and peace and that the terrorists do not, in any way, represent the faith.
Louisiana: ‘Kept in the dark’
Louisiana governor and GOP presidential candidate Bobby Jindal complained bitterly in an open letter to Obama that the federal government had not informed his government about refugees being relocated to his state last week.
“It is irresponsible and severely disconcerting to place individuals, who may have ties to ISIS, in a state without the state’s knowledge or involvement,” Jindal said in his letter Saturday.
He demanded to know more about the people being placed in Louisiana to avoid a repeat of the Paris attacks and wanted to know if screening would be intensified for refugees holding Syrian passports.
And he suggested Obama hold off on taking in more refugees.
“It would be prudent to pause the process of refugees coming to the United States. Authorities need to investigate what happened in Europe before this problem comes to the United States,” Jindal said.
Republican candidate Donald Trump called accepting Syrian refugees “insane.”
“We all have heart and we all want people taken care of, but with the problems our country has, to take in 250,000 — some of whom are going to have problems, big problems — is just insane. We have to be insane. Terrible,” Donald Trump said at a rally in Beaumont, Texas.
It’s not clear why Trump used the 250,000 figure.
The Obama administration has previously announced plans to take in 10,000 Syrian refugees next year.
While addressing reporters on Monday, Obama called out Republican candidates who have objected to admitting refugees to the United States.
“When I hear a political leader suggesting that there should be a religious test for which a person who is 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 is shameful,” the President said. “We don’t have religious tests to our compassion.”
New York: ‘Virtually no vetting’
A senior White House security official attempted to allay concerns about the vetting of Syrian refugees.
On NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday, White House Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said, “We have very extensive screening procedures for all Syrian refugees who have come to the United States. There is a very careful vetting process that includes our intelligence community, our National Counter Terrorism Center, the Department of Homeland Security, so we can make sure that we are carefully screening anybody that comes to the United States.”
New York Rep. Peter King, speaking on Fox News, cast doubt on Rhodes’ comments.
“What he said about the vetting of the refugees is untrue. There is virtually no vetting cause there are no databases in Syria, there are no government records. We don’t know who these people are.”
On Sunday, investigators said that one of the Paris bombers carried Syrian identification papers — possibly forged — and the fear of Syrian refugees grew worse.
“It’s not that we don’t want to — it’s that we can’t,” Florida Sen. and Republican presidential hopeful Marco Rubio told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos. “Because there’s no way to background check someone that’s coming from Syria.”