Sunday 26 January 2020

Trump leaves governors to decide if states take refugees

Executive order: President Donald Trump delivers a speech in Florida. Photo: Reuters
Executive order: President Donald Trump delivers a speech in Florida. Photo: Reuters

Grant Schulte

An executive order by US President Donald Trump giving states the right to refuse to take refugees is putting Republican governors in an uncomfortable position.

They have been caught between immigration hardliners who want to shut the door and some Christian evangelicals who believe helping refugees is a moral obligation.

Others say refugees are vital to fill jobs and keep rural communities afloat.

More than 30 governors have agreed to accept refugees, but about a dozen Republican governors have stayed silent as they face a decision that must be made by January 21 so resettlement agencies can secure federal funding in time.

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Mr Trump's order requires governors to publicly say they will accept refugees. They cannot automatically come to their states, even if cities and counties welcome them. So far, no one has opted to shut out refugees.

A North Dakota county voted this month to accept no more than 25 refugees next year, after initially signalling it would be the first to ban them.

The president issued the order in September after slashing the number of refugees allowed into the United States in 2020 to a historic low of 18,000. The reduction is part of the administration's efforts to reduce legal and illegal immigration.

It thrust states and local governments into immigration policy, willingly or not. It has caused heated debates and raucous meetings in several states, including North Dakota to Wisconsin.

Mr Trump says his administration acted to respect communities that believe they do not have enough jobs to support refugees. Refugees can move anywhere in the US after their initial resettlement, at their own expense.

Republican governors in Nebraska, West Virginia, Tennessee, Ohio, Indiana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Arizona, Iowa and Oklahoma have consented to accepting refugees in 2020. Vermont's Republican governor said he intends to accept refugees.

Others have not taken a public stance. They include the Republican governors of Georgia and Missouri, along with Greg Abbott of Texas, the state that took in the largest number of refugees this year.

Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom of California, the nation's most populous state that resettles many refugees, also has not consented yet but his office said he was planning to do so.

In 2015, governors from 31 states - nearly all with Republican governors, including Mr Abbott - tried to shut out Syrians, citing terrorism fears. But they didn't have the legal authority at the time.

Now that they do, some governors have struggled with the decision.

Faith-based groups have led an aggressive campaign urging them to keep accepting refugees, while immigration hardliners have criticised Republicans who have not used their new authority to put the brakes on refugees coming into their states.

Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts, who tried to turn away Syrians in 2015, spent weeks reviewing his options.

He gave his consent in an open letter to Mr Trump co-signed by Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds and South Dakota's Kristi Noem, praising the president for strengthening the vetting process.

"Thanks to your leadership, Americans can be confident once again in the screening process for refugees entering the United States," the governors said in the letter.

Hatim Ido, a former US Army translator and member of the persecuted Yazidi community who fled Iraq, was relieved Nebraska's doors are still open.

Mr Ido hopes his two sisters in Iraq will be able to join him some day in Lincoln.

"I'm really concerned about them," said Mr Ido, a graduate student who became a US citizen last year. "I understand [government officials] need to be very careful. I just wish there was a process in place so we could bring them here."

Administration officials say refugee applicants are subject to the strictest, most comprehensive background checks for any group seeking to come to the US.

Irish Independent

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