This post has been updated.
The deadly attacks in Paris last Friday have sparked a wave of US state governors saying they will refuse to accept Syrian refugees in their states—up from two earlier today to at least 15. The scramble began this morning when Alabama governor Robert Bentley issued a statement attempting to bar Syrian migrants from being resettled in his state, saying that doing so would make him “complicit” in a system that puts Americans at the risk of a terrorist attack.
There has yet to be a single Syrian refugee resettled in Alabama to date, according to Bentley’s own statement, despite the fact that the state has a US State Department-approved refugee processing center in its third-largest city, Mobile. And it is uncertain whether any governor would have the power to ban refugees from a given country, as resettlement is handled at the federal level.
French police have thus identified five of the attackers who killed 127 people and injured more than 300 in Paris, and all five were French nationals. Syrian passports were found near two of the dead attackers, but that may not mean much: stolen or counterfeit Syrian documents are in wide circulation, and officials told France 24 that the ones found in Paris were indeed fakes made in Turkey.
Michigan governor Rick Snyder released a statement Sunday saying the state would refuse to accept Syrians until the US Department of Homeland Security reviews its procedures, according to the Detroit Free Press.
“Michigan is a welcoming state and we are proud of our rich history of immigration,” Snyder said in a statement. “But our first priority is protecting the safety of our residents.”
In 2014, Snyder called for the Obama administration to set aside 50,000 work visas for Syrian refugees to come live and work in Detroit, as part of a campaign to revitalize the city, once known for its industriousness. He also created the Michigan Office for New Americans to attract highly-skilled immigrants to the state. Metropolitan Detroit is home to the the fourth-largest population of Syrian refugees among US cities, with about 3,000, according to the Detroit News.
Shortly after Bentley and Snyder’s announcements, Texas governor Greg Abbott wrote in a letter to president Barack Obama today the Lone Star state would not accept any Syrian refugees. Abbott cited the Paris attacks as part of his decision-making.
“Given the tragic attacks in Paris and the threats we have already seen, Texas cannot participate in any program that will result in Syrian refugees — any one of whom could be connected to terrorism — being resettled in Texas,” Abbott said. He directed the state’s resettlement program to not “participate in the resettlement of any Syrian refugees” in the state and urged the president to prevent Syrians from being “resettled anywhere in the United States.”
Arkansas governor, Asa Hutchinson, similarly said he will “oppose” the relocation of Syrian refugees in Arkansas.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence also announced they would block relocation of refugees in their states, CNBC reported.
Those seeking asylum in the US should receive an interview within 45 days of their application and receive a decision within six months, according to the US Citizenship and Immigration Service’s website, but many Syrian asylum-seekers wait two or more years just for an interview. The number of Syrians in the US is still very low; Syrians made up just 7.8% of the 1 million immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa residing in the US in 2013.
The The United States takes several factors into account when resettling refugees, including whether they have relatives in the US and if local agencies are able to handle special cases and specific languages. “Each state also has the ability to comment on the capacity of the agencies and the communities in which they propose to place refugees,” the state department’s Danna Van Brandt told the Detroit News in September.
But the power to comment probably only applies to the number of refugees that are placed in a given state, not the national origin of the refugees themselves.