Governors: Illinois, Indiana Will Stop Accepting Syrian Refugees

(Noor Kelze/Reuters via Landov)

Children attend school in Aleppo on Nov. 25, 2012.

(Courtesy of Noor Kelze)

Illinois is one of 15 states closing its borders to Syrian refugees in the wake of the terrorist attacks in France on Friday. But it's unclear if this move is legal under federal law.

In a statement, Gov. Bruce Rauner announced the state will "temporarily suspend" accepting Syrian refugees, citing security concerns after the Islamic State group killed and injured hundreds of people in Friday’s Paris attacks. Rauner says Illinois must balance its tradition of welcoming refugees while "ensuring the safety and security of our citizens.'' The governor says Illinois will consider its legal options pending a review of U.S. Department and Homeland Security's acceptance and security processes.

It's also unclear whether Illinois and other states even have the authority to close their borders to refugees. A patchwork of court cases and immigration laws give the federal government jurisdiction on where refugees can go, but  states can refuse their resources to the federal government. U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner says the agency's lawyers don't know yet if states can usurp federal immigration law and close their borders. 

"We take their concerns seriously," Toner said in a Monday afternoon press briefing. "We disagree that these people...represent any kind of real threat."

Deb Hlavna, co-director of the East Central Illinois Refugee Mutual Assistance Center in Urbana, says the governor’s move is a "knee-jerk reaction" to a threat that isn't there. She says fears of terrorists slipping through the U.S. immigration system are not realistic.

"(Refugees) have to go through criminal background checks, you can count on it that it doesn't matter that the country's in chaos. Until you jump through all these hoops, they're not coming," she said. "It's not like the people who are fleeing Syria right now are going to get here any time soon. It's years."

"It's not like what's happening in places like Germany where they're showing up, they have to fly over the ocean to get here,"' she said. "Immigration has interviewed them at least once and probably numerous times."

About 130 Syrian refugees have been resettled in Illinois this year. Many of the Syrian refugees coming to the U.S. will land at Chicago's O'Hare airport, and be resettled to other regions from there.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence said his state will continue its refuse to accept Syrian refugees, quote “unless and until Indiana receives assurances that proper security measures are in place”.

Governors in several other states have stopped accepting Syrian refugees, including Texas, Alabama, Louisiana and Michigan.

Story source: Illinois Public Radio