More than half of the country’s governors are now rejecting the federal government’s call to absorb Syrian Muslim refugees; 27 states total have come out against President Obama’s resettlement plan.
On Tuesday, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie penned a letter directly to the White House, explicitly rejecting Obama’s program. “As Governor, my Number One obligation and sworn oath is to keep the resident of New Jersey safe. The threat posed to ISIS is very real. I write to inform you that I will not accept any refugees in the wake of the deadly terrorist attack in Paris,” begins the letter. The Republican presidential candidate has been one of most vocal critics of the plan, joining governors across the country in their opposition to the federally imposed mandate.
"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,” declared Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley (R).
State officials that were nominally in favor of the resettlement program quickly changed their tune in the wake of the recent terrorist attacks. While Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) initially worked with federal agencies to take in refugees, he recently issued a statement that illustrated support for the victims of violence in the Middle East, but rejected further cooperation with the federal government, saying: “Our first priority is protecting the safety of our residents," "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."
Despite resistance from the states, the federal government has nonetheless plowed forward and pushed its resettlement under the legal authority of the Refugee Resettlement Act of 1980. “Lavinia Limon, president and CEO of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigration, said under the Refugee Act of 1980 governors cannot legally block refugees. Each state has a refugee coordinator, a post created as part of that law, she said. Funded by the federal government, the post coordinates resettlement efforts with agencies such as hers and directs federal funds for refugees,” reports The Blaze. “Westy Egmont, director of Boston College’s Immigrant Integration Lab, said the law previously withstood state challenges partly because the federal government has worked to equally distribute refugees being resettled. Some states have worked with resettlement agencies to limit new refugee arrivals to those with family ties to the community while families or individuals with no ties to a specific state have been sent to other locations with better prospects for jobs, housing and integration programs.”
State governors will find it difficult to challenge the White House, especially considering the relevant case law and Supreme Court precedent. In fact, the Court’s decision in Truax v. Raich (1915) appears to provide concrete legal weight to the Obama administration’s position, tipping the scale in favor of the federal authority over state governments. “The assertion of an authority to deny to aliens the opportunity of earning a livelihood when lawfully admitted to the State would be tantamount to the assertion of the right to deny them entrance and abode, for in ordinary cases they cannot live where they cannot work," the Court stated. "And, if such a policy were permissible, the practical result would be that those lawfully admitted to the country under the authority of the acts of Congress, instead of enjoying in a substantial sense and in their full scope the privileges conferred by the admission, would be segregated in such of the States as chose to offer hospitality."
Reason explains, “Congress possesses the constitutional power to regulate the admission of aliens to the United States. Once an alien has been lawfully admitted under federal law, no state may ‘deny them entrance and abode.’ That standard plainly covers the treatment of Syrian refugees that have been lawfully admitted to the United States.”
While symbolic declarations of rejection and robust debate continue surfacing, state governments will ultimately lack the legal muscle to challenge the White House’s Syrian Muslim refugee resettlement policy.