RALEIGH — One day after national refugee organizations accused 31 governors of discrimination and fear-mongering in seeking a halt in the flow of Syrian refugees into their states, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper came out in support of Gov. Pat McCrory’s request for such a moratorium.
“As chief law enforcement officer of North Carolina, I support asking the federal government to pause refugee entries to make sure we have the most effective screening process possible so our humanitarian efforts are not hijacked,” Cooper said Wednesday.
Cooper issued his statement several hours after North Carolina Republican Party Executive Director Dallas Woodhouse called on Cooper and Durham attorney Ken Spaulding, Democrats running against Republican incumbent McCrory, to make their positions known.
At a press conference outside Cooper’s office, Woodhouse asked if the Democrats “support[ed] what the governor, 10 members of the congressional delegation, and the leadership of the General Assembly, as well as other governors do,” to freeze the program while ensuring screening procedures to keep potential terrorists out.
Spaulding could not be reached for comment.
Charities assisting refugee resettlement in the United States have been unmoved by the requests for a temporary halt. If the Islamic State’s intention in launching last Friday’s wave of terrorist attacks in Paris that killed 129 and wounded at least 350 was to provoke “small-minded panic, some governors are helping them to get their wish,” Linda Hartke, president of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, said during a Tuesday conference call arranged by Refugee Council USA.
“It would be pretty amazing for a governor to decide to discriminate in the provision of services based on ethnicity or racial makeup,” said Lavinia Limon, president and CEO of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants.
“I understand that the governors want to protect their citizens,” Limon said during the conference call. But they also must protect individual freedoms and laws to prevent racial and ethnic discrimination.
“I find that the statements are not only offensive but illegal and impractical” that some governors would prevent local education or social service agencies from cooperating with assistance programs for Syrian refugees, Limon said.
“The governors creating this kind of poisonous atmosphere … is really disturbing,” she said.
Also on the call, Kevin Appleby, director of Migration Policy for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the federal government has plenary power to regulate who comes into the U.S., and has the authority to place refugees in localities of its choosing. States do not have a right of refusal, he said.
“I would think any court case, that the states would have a difficult time making the case that they have the right to deny a legal resident” travel or residence in their state, Appleby said.
A governor could eliminate any state funding for refugee programs, though nearly all refugee assistance is federally funded. States could refuse to accept federal flow-through dollars to disallow state health department and social services agencies from participating in the refugee program.
Governors in about a half dozen states have shut down their refugee assistance in the past, Limon said.
“There was never any rancor or political reasons for this happening,” Limon said. Programs had become so small they no longer required state cooperation.
In those cases the federal government is required to contract with another refugee agency to coordinate and administer federal funds.
All three refugee assistance representatives said governors and others calling for a moratorium are misleading the public by questioning the strength of the vetting process for Syrian refugees.
Syrians “receive special scrutiny,” Appleby said. “I don’t know what else they could do” to make it more rigorous.
But Hartke admitted refugee agencies don’t know all the specifics about refugee screening.
“The minute details of every step of the process are not disclosed by our government,” she said.
Although Limon said refugee agencies closely monitor and work with refugees, when pressed for statistics showing criminal activity by refugees, she admitted, “We don’t keep those.”
Jim Hanson, executive vice president of the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Security Policy, acknowledged governors “don’t have the power in most cases to stop this” influx of Syrians.
But governors took an oath of office to defend and protect their citizens, and are correct to make a powerful political statement, he said.
Hanson also lacks confidence in the vetting process.
“I think there’s a difference between a lot of screening and effective screening,” Hanson said. “It’s the difference between security theater, which is the appearance of a rigorous screening process, and actual security, which is based on information that we don’t have, and we can’t get at this point in time” because Syria is more of a lawless region than a sovereign state, Hanson said.
“All of the records of that state, to the extent there were any, have been compromised because the government offices have been raided everywhere except Damascus,” Hanson said. While the feds and refugee contractors insist refugees are cross-checked on Syrian databases, he said such systems don’t exist in the war-ravaged nation.
“Tens of thousands of Syrian passports were looted from government agencies” and easily could be falsified by jihadists from anywhere, Hanson said.
It would be less expensive and more humane to resettle refugees in their home regions than allow them to flood Europe or come to the United States, he said.
Hanson rejects claims that governors are creating a hostile environment that could result in backlash against Muslims.
“I wish that the acts of Islamic terror were as fictitious as these claims of Islamophobia,” he said. “We have dead bodies all around the globe.”
Dan E. Way (@danway_carolina) is an associate editor of Carolina Journal.