Local legislators against allowing refugees into state

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Governor: Feds should implement strongest safeguards possible

Local legislators are lining up to ask Gov. Jay Nixon to deny Syrian refugees entry into Missouri, saying the federal government cannot separate the refugees from possible ISIS operatives.

On Monday, Nixon released a statement Monday saying the federal government should lead the way in handling incoming refugees.

"The safety of Missourians is my highest priority, and the terrorists who were involved in planning and perpetrating the attacks in Paris must be caught and brought to justice," Nixon said. "The screening process for refugees is the responsibility of the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and I call on our federal partners to implement the strongest possible safeguards to protect our state and nation."

In a letter to Nixon, State Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick, R-Shell Knob, said while he is sympathetic to the atrocities the Syrian people have endured, he firmly believes that security and defense must be the top priority.

"In light of the recent, deadly attacks in Paris, I simply do not believe the federal government can adequately ensure it can separate ISIS operatives or sympathizers from the tens of thousands of refugees it intends to resettle," he wrote. "Mr. Governor, I urge you to reconsider your decision to move forward with this resettlement plan -- for the sake of the safety and security of my constituents, and for all Missouri residents."

Fitzpatrick said the caution should come as one of the attackers in Paris entered Europe through Greece with a fake Syrian passport. Fingerprints from his entry point in Greece matched that of the Stade de France bomber, who was denied entry into a stadium during a France-Germany soccer match and detonated his device outside.

"If something like that happened in Paris, it could happen in the U.S.," Fitzpatrick said. "We need to take notice and put the safety of Missouri and the U.S. before letting people in who may have ties to terrorism. Even if a very low percentage may be harmful, it's against the safety and security of Missouri and the U.S. to let them in."

State Sen. David Sater, R-Cassville, has joined 18 senators, all Republicans, in urging Nixon to suspend the acceptance of Syrian refugees wanting to relocate in Missouri.

"I don't think the refugees have been vetted properly, and I heard on Fox Radio [Tuesday] morning that half of the refugees coming in are not even from Syria," he said. "That was supposedly a statement from the [United Nations].

"I'm more concerned about all the Syrians who are Christians. For one thing, there's zero Christian Syrians who belong to ISIS, so we know they would not be terrorists."

State Rep. Mike Moon, R-Ash Grove, also sent a letter to Nixon, saying it is probable refugees awaiting placement are sympathetic to terrorists.

"They themselves may, in fact, have intent to carry out acts of terror within the several United States, and in an effort to secure our borders and offer protection to our residents, I call on you to use your authority as Governor to exercise the U.S. Constitution's 10th amendment to oppose the relocation of any and all refugees within the borders of the state of Missouri," he wrote.

Moon cited the attacker with the fake Syrian passport as evidence that the U.S. may not know if a refugee may have terrorist connections. He also cited a London Daily Mail article from Oct. 21 stating FBI Director James Comey told the House Committee on Homeland Security that refugees cannot be thoroughly screened, and Syrians who are not already in the FBI's system cannot be checked.

The 10th amendment declares any powers not delegated to the federal government are reserved for the states, or the people.

However, the Refugee Act of 1980 would allow President Obama in this case to admit refugees, as they face persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion, according to the act. Obama may do so with speed if an unforeseen emergency refugee situation exists, such as the Syrian refugee crisis. Obama has said he will accept up to 10,000 refugees. Since the civil war started in 2011, more than 1,500 Syrian refugees have been accepted into the United States.

"I'm not sure we should have let 1,500 in in the first place," Sater said. "The way it works now, a refugee could say he's a goat farmer, but there's no way to tell if he has ties to ISIS. It's impossible to vet them."

As of Tuesday morning, 27 states -- all with Republican governors, except one -- have said they oppose allowing Syrian refugees to relocate within their borders.

Fitzpatrick said he is not convinced the federal authority is so clear cut.

"I don't think it's a black and white issue relating to the Constitution," he said. "The states should have a say as to whether they want to accept refugees or not."

Sater said the all the state can legally do is protest.

"We are trying to make a statement," Sater said. "I have gotten a lot of emails from my constituents about this situation, and they are alarmed and scared, and they have the right to be."

Moon said the Refugee Act of 1980 amounts to an unconstitutional edict, and it was passed in a time when terrorists were not involved in the refugee intake.

"This is a different day, and when we know there are certain combatants and enemies of the U.S., it would be a tragedy to let them in not knowing for sure," he said.

Fitzpatrick said his letter to Nixon aims to convince the governor to do whatever he can to prevent refugees relocating in Missouri, and the legislature also needs to look at what it can do.

"I think what we need to do as a state is to make sure benefits to refugees do not exist, like those with refugee status would be eligible for public assistance programs," he said. "It's about what we as a state can do to address this issue, and I'm not sure there's a clear cut answer at this point."

Germany granted refugee status to 40,000 Syrians in August, but is scaling back its open-door policy as hundreds of thousands of refugees enter the country. Syrians would only be allowed to enter Germany for one year, are barred from having family members join them and would only receive subsidiary protection, which limits their rights as refugees. Germany, Sweden and Austria have been the most open in Europe to taking refugees in the last six months.

According to SyrianRefugees.eu, an estimated 9 million Syrians have fled their homes since a civil war began in March 2011. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, more than 3 million have fled to neighboring countries like Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq, and about 6.5 million are displaced within Syria.

Fitzpatrick said he believes the refugees should have better access to safe areas in the Middle East.

"There may be some country closer to Syria that can accept them without them having to come to the U.S.," he said.

Moon said after the tsunami in 2004, he went to Sri Lanka to provide medical aid and witnessed tent cities for refugees, which he believes could be set up in countries neighboring Syria.

"[Those refugees] were well taken care of, and once everything was rebuilt, they were put back in their houses," he said. "I believe we can do something like that with a neighboring country to Syria.

"Once refugees get into the United States, it would be difficult to force them to leave. Some may be good folks, but with the lack of a good vetting process, I don't think we can take any chances."

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