States cannot refuse refugees, but they can make it difficult

Posted at 9:17 AM, Nov 17, 2015
and last updated 2015-11-17 10:31:56-05

A wave of governors — mostly Republicans — issued a cascade of press releases Monday voicing objections to Syrian refugees landing their states, following the Paris attacks.

Experts say that while the states may not have the legal authority to block their borders, state agencies have authority to make the process of accepting refugees much more difficult.

“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,” said Kevin Appleby, the director of migration policy at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the largest refugee resettlement organization in the country.

Appleby said one thing the states could do was to cut their own funding in the area.

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 notes that without a state’s participation the federal government would have a much more difficult time. “So a state can’t say it is legally objecting, but it can refuse to cooperate, which makes thing much more difficult.”

Penn State Law professor Shoba Sivaprasad Wadhia points out that each potential entrant goes through a rigorous screening process.

“It’s been misleading for leaders of States to apply what happened in Paris to would-be refugees who may come to the U.S,” Wadhia said. “There is a significant screening process to take before individuals are admitted.”

“Refugee admissions are set by the President, and guided by federal law,” she said. “States play a role in working with the federal government when refugees are resettled, but the overarching authority rests in federal law.”

Additionally, she said, “The people who are coming to the U.S. as refugees are fleeing from the very same perpetrators who committed the acts in Paris. There is a real disconnect and lack of compassion when trying to respond to the Paris attacks by endangering the most vulnerable.”