Brownback blasts Obama’s policy on Syrian refugees; legal experts question governor’s executive order
Topeka ? Gov. Sam Brownback blasted the Obama administration late Tuesday for failing to provide assurance that it can prevent terrorists from entering the U.S. posing as Syrian refugees.
His statement was issued shortly after a 90-minute conference call between the White House and 34 governors, many of whom, including Brownback, have announced they will not accept Syrian refugees into their states.
“The White House was desperate to restore confidence in the screening process for Syrian refugees. They failed,” Brownback said in a statement Tuesday night. “In the end, despite acknowledging information gaps from these failed states, the White House said it would continue to run the program as it has in the past, disregarding the concerns of Governors across the nation.”
The White House, meanwhile, described the conference call as productive, saying that several governors expressed appreciation for the chance to better understand the screening process and have their issues addressed.
“Others encouraged further communication to ensure that governors are able to better respond to questions from the public about the refugee screening and resettlement process,” the White House said in a statement to news outlets.
President Obama did not take part in the conference call. It was led by White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough and included ranking officials from the departments of State, Defense, Homeland Security and Health and Human Services.
On Monday, Brownback issued an executive order directing that no state agency or organization receiving grant money from the state may “aid, cooperate with, or assist in any way the relocation of refugees from Syria to the State of Kansas.”
At least 30 other governors, almost all of them Republican, have taken similar measures to block Syrian refugees from entering their states.
Those actions came just days after the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris that left at least 129 people dead and more than 300 wounded.
It also came shortly after some Republican legislative leaders complained that the influx of refugees into Kansas was putting an unfunded burden on public schools.
Sen. Ty Masterson, R-Andover, who chairs the Senate Ways and Means Committee, made that comment as the Legislative Coordinating Council pared back a request by the Wichita school district for additional funding to help it deal with a sudden increase in enrollment by refugee children.
The ongoing civil war in Syria has produced a mass exodus from the country and an international humanitarian crisis, with hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing on foot or by boat, most of them bound for Europe.
The Washington Post reported Wednesday that the alleged mastermind behind the attacks, Ahmad Almohammad, emigrated to Europe with a fake Syrian passport in a boat full of refugees that landed last month in Greece.
Kansas Refugee Program
In the United States, the federal government provides states with funding to help resettle refugees, political asylum seekers, victims of human trafficking and other eligible immigrants to ease their integration into American society. In Kansas, the program is administered by the Department for Children and Families.
DCF distributes that money in the form of grants to a number of private, nonprofit social service agencies that sponsor refugees who want to resettle in Kansas. Those agencies are primarily located in the Kansas City and Wichita areas, and in Garden City.
Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas, which received $320,000 in grant funding last year, is the agency that works with refugees in the Kansas City, Lawrence and Topeka areas.
DCF spokeswoman Theresa Freed said that in the federal fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, Kansas received $600,000 in federal funds for its refugee program. The state resettled about 600 refugees from various countries, including eight people from two families of Syrians.
Freed said that DCF has directed the agencies that receive refugee grant funding not to use any of those funds for resettling Syrian refugees.
Legal and constitutional questions
Some legal experts have questioned whether governors have the legal or constitutional authority to block the resettlement of targeted groups of refugees.
“First of all, states cannot constitutionally erect barriers that prevent the free movement of persons within the United States,” Kansas University constitutional law professor Rick Levy said. “Once an individual is admitted into the United States, there are no border checks.
Levy also said that because the Kansas Refugee Program is federally funded, it is not clear whether Brownback can legally take actions that are inconsistent with federal laws and regulations that govern the program, at least not without risking the loss of all future funding for that program.
In addition, he said, Brownback’s order raises questions about his authority to control the actions of the private, nonprofit agencies that work with the program.
“I don’t think the state can prohibit private nonprofits from fulfilling their obligations under federal law,” Levy said.
The American Civil Liberties Union has also questioned the legality of Brownback’s executive order.
“The 14th Amendment to the federal Constitution clearly outlaws discrimination on the basis of national origin or alienage, which clearly applies here,” said Micah Kubic, executive director of the ACLU of Kansas. “Anything that’s discriminatory on its face is unconstitutional.”
Kubic also said the nonprofit agencies that receive grant funding to help resettle refugees are often working on contract with the federal government, and that Brownback’s order could interfere with those contracts.
Brownback’s press secretary, Eileen Hawley, however, said the administration is confident that the executive order is legal and enforceable.
“The governor is acting within his authority as the governor of the state to protect the citizens of Kansas,” Hawley said.