Kansas is joining a growing number of states that don’t want to receive Syrian refugees after last week’s terrorist attacks in Paris.
Gov. Sam Brownback signed an executive order Monday saying no state agency or organization receiving state money will help relocate Syrian refugees in the Sunflower State.
“We must take immediate action to ensure terrorists do not enter the nation or our state under the guise of refugee resettlement,” Brownback said in the statement. “We cannot allow an influx of Syrian refugees, without any meaningful security checks, while ISIS is promising to infiltrate the refugee process.”
About 20 governors, mostly Republican, have made similar announcements on the Syrian refugee crisis.
Terrorists in Paris killed around 130 people last Friday in the worst attack on French soil in modern history. France responded Sunday by ramping up bombings against the Islamic State terrorist group, which claimed credit for the attacks, in its de facto capital Raqqa.
The deadly attacks, and whether or not they were carried out by recent refugees from Syria, raised new concerns in the U.S. and Europe about the millions of refugees fleeing government bombings and extremist groups involved in Syria’s bloody civil war.
Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Louisiana, Arkansas, Illinois, Arizona, Indiana, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Idaho, Maine, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio and Wisconsin governors all made statements Monday against allowing Syrian refugees in their states.
But refugee groups say Syrian refugees are victims to be welcomed, not turned away from borders.
“We shouldn’t allow the tragic events of last week to sow fear of innocent refugees,” said Jennifer Doran, executive director of the International Rescue Committee of Wichita, which helps place refugees in local communities. She says the group has placed only a handful of refugees from Syria.
The Kansas Department for Children and Families said Monday that two Syrian refugee families have settled in Kansas this year: one in Wichita and the other in Kansas City, Kan.
The governors of Alabama and Michigan first announced Sunday they do not want Syrian refugees relocated to their states. Governors in about 20 other states followed suit in a flood of statements and tweets throughout Monday.
“American humanitarian compassion could be exploited to expose Americans to similar deadly danger,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott wrote in a letter to President Obama. “Opening our door to them irresponsibly exposes our fellow Americans to unacceptable peril.”
On the other hand, governors in Vermont and Connecticut said their states would not turn away Syrian refugees.
International pressure has grown in recent months for the U.S. and other Western nations to shelter some of the 4 million refugees who have fled violence in Syria.
The Obama administration has said it will accept 10,000 refugees from Syria over the next year.
Brownback said it’s still possible that terrorists could slip into the United States through that process.
10,000 Number of Syrian refugees the Obama administration wants to accept over the next year.
4.1 million Number of Syrian refugees in Iraq, Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan
“The federal government cannot guarantee that Syrian refugees coming to America would not be part of a terrorist organization seeking to harm our citizens,” Brownback said.
Rep. Jerry Lunn, R-Overland Park, said he opposed resettling Syrian refugees in Kansas.
“I don’t believe for a minute that all of these people that are refugees have been properly vetted,” Lunn said. “We just saw it in Paris.”
Lawmakers acknowledged the lack of good options when it comes to the human carnage in Syria’s civil war, which is in its fifth year.
“I’m also compassionate about some of the plights these people are coming from … but I’d rather people establish safe havens closer to where they’re from,” Lunn added.
“When some of their fellow countries in the Middle East won’t accept them (Syrian refugees), that tells you how concerned they are about their own security,” said Rep. Steve Brunk, R-Wichita.
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, accused Brownback of “using a very tragic situation over the weekend to play politics.”
“This is just his diversionary tactic to take the attention off of his own abysmal record,” Hensley said. “I guess he wants to scapegoat a group of people here to distract the people of Kansas.”
Refugees are individuals who have been terrified the last five years.
Jennifer Doran, executive director of International Rescue Committee of Wichita
Some experts say that governors’ statements and executive orders don’t carry much legal weight since they concern refugee matters mostly handled by the State Department.
Refugee groups criticized the governors who took action or made statements against accepting Syrian refugees.
“It is really based on misinformation about who Syrian refugees are,” said Doran, of the International Rescue Committee of Wichita. “Refugees are individuals who have been terrified the last five years.”
Doran said refugees are heavily screened and vetted by agencies like the FBI, CIA and State Department.
“The United States has a much more robust screening process (than European Union nations),” she said.
We must put the safety and well-being of Kansans first.
Kansas Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer
But Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer said the state must be cautious when dealing with the “security of Kansas families.”
“While we know the vast majority of Syrian refugees are victims of the atrocities in that region, we must put the safety and well-being of Kansans first.”
Contributing: Bryan Lowry of The Eagle; Associated Press