The terrorist attacks in Paris Friday have ignited Republican opposition to letting Syrian refugees secure asylum in the United States – with two governors speaking out against resettling Syrians in their states.
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley both issued statements Sunday announcing that their states would be closed to any refugees out of Syria. Their decisions echo similar statements from a number of 2016 Republican presidential candidates, who over the weekend called for a ban on allowing Syrians into the country out of fear it would be hard to tell whether any of them had ties to Islamic militants.
"It's not that we don't want to, it's that we can't," Florida senator and GOP contender Marco Rubio said Sunday on ABC's "This Week.” "Because there's no way to background check someone that's coming from Syria. Who do you call and do a background check on them?"
Friday’s mass killings in Paris – which involved coordinated attacks at six venues, including a concert hall and the Stade de France – left at least 129 people dead and 352 wounded. A Syrian passport found near one of the attackers had passed through three countries known for a heavy influx of refugees and loose border controls, officials said, renewing fears that people with links to terrorists and Islamic militants could use the wave of mass migration in Europe as cover for crossing borders.
Such concerns have drawn fresh attention to the debate around admitting Syrian refugees, which has been part of broader national security discussions – despite pleas from experts that overreacting to the attacks could play into the hands of extremist groups.
“What is needed is human intelligence, intimate knowledge of Middle Eastern societies. Like the 19th-century anarchists, Islamist terrorists today want to ‘sharpen the contradictions’ within Western societies," Karim Emile Bitar, a Paris-based professor of international relations at Lebanon's Université Saint-Joseph, told The Christian Science Monitor Sunday. "Overreactions and a rise of extreme rhetoric would play in their favor. Governments should not fall into that trap.”
Senator Rubio’s remarks Sunday marked a change in his position from the fall, when he told Boston Herald radio that he would be open to taking in refugees as long as a proper vetting process was in place.
Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson, a retired surgeon, said that from the Islamic State’s perspective, it would be "almost malpractice" not to do everything in its power to plant militants bent on waging jihad into the ranks of refugees.
Michigan’s Governor Snyder, who in September was in talks with the federal government regarding the resettlement of refugees, also shifted his stance Sunday with his announcement to suspend the acceptance of any Syrian refugees until the Department of Homeland Security had fully reviewed its procedures.
“Michigan is a welcoming state and we are proud of our rich history of immigration,” Snyder said in the statement. "But our first priority is protecting the safety of our residents."
But Snyder's decision was controversial.
Maged Moughni, a Dearborn attorney and Arab-American advocate, told the Detroit Free Press: "It's doing what ISIS wants. ... He's just basically buying into what ISIS wants: Muslims against the West ... Gov. Snyder is buying into the rhetoric."
Alabama’s Governor Bentley made a similar declaration, saying, “I will not stand complicit to a policy that places the citizens of Alabama in harm's way."
All three Democratic presidential candidates – former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton, Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley – supported proper screening processes for any Syrians coming into the country. But the US should admit more than 10,000 Syrians to which President Obama has committed, the said in Saturday night’s Democratic debate.
A spokesman for Mr. Obama said Sunday that the administration is moving forward with its plan to admit 10,000 refugees into the US in 2016.
"What we need to be able to do frankly is sort out that foreign fighter flow, those who have gone into Syria and come out and want to launch attacks or those people who have connections with ISIL in Syria," Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said on Fox News Sunday. "At the same time, we have to recognize there's tragic victims of this conflict, there are women, and children, orphans of this war and I think we need to do our part, along with our allies, to provide them a safe haven."