Can governors close borders to Syrian refugees?

People queue in order to board a ferry at the port of Mytilene on the island of Lesbos, Greece, Friday, Nov. 6, 2015. Thousands of migrants and refugees were allowed to board vessels in Mytilene on Friday, as Greek ferries ended a strike that had left them trapped on eastern Aegean islands. (AP Photo/Marko Drobnjakovic)

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — As Friday’s terror attacks on Paris are rapidly weakening support for programs that bring in Syrian refugees, many state governors are saying they don’t want them.

Governors in 21 states have said they will oppose accepting or that their state will not accept any new refugees from Syria.

In Michigan, Gov. Rick Snyder on Monday clarified a Sunday statement that he would suspend efforts to accept Syrians into the Great Lakes State, instead saying his move was a request to the federal government and that that the hold would be temporary.

“The statement was actually saying we were going to suspend things until we had a chance to talk with the Department of Homeland Security,” Snyder said. “We just want to verify that they’re comfortable with the procedures.”

And, his office added, the state does not have the power to outright close the borders to refugees.

A map showing states in which governors have said they will oppose accepting or that their state will not accept any new refugees from Syria.
(A map showing states in which governors have said they will oppose accepting or that their state will not accept any new refugees from Syria.)

Michigan had been one of the more welcoming states to Syrian refugees.

“Now because of this terrible tragedy in Paris, what the governor is saying is, ‘Not so fast. We’re not as welcoming as we were just a week or so ago. Don’t put us on your list of people who will settle refugees,” explained Curt Benson, a professor at Western Michigan University Cooley Law School.

But do governors have the legal ability to simply ban refugees? The short answer that 24 Hour News 8 found is no.

WMU Cooley Law Professor Curt Benson. (Nov. 16, 2015)
(WMU Cooley Law Professor Curt Benson speaks with Heather Walker.)

“Once the federal government says you are a lawful alien — not necessarily a citizen, but you’re an alien, a non-resident but you’re here lawfully — they can move around wherever they want to go,” Benson said. “The state of Michigan can’t stop them at the border and say, ‘You’re not welcome here.’”

Benson said the federal government makes all of the decisions when it comes to immigration.

He thinks the governor’s statement is more of a political move.

“I would probably make the same political decision because right now people are worried about refugees,” Benson said. “But again, these people are fleeing the very terrorists that planned this (the Paris attacks).”

Snyder said Monday that he thinks the federal review of security procedures will be completed quickly.

At a Monday briefing, the U.S. Department of State was asked whether governors had the right to refuse refugees. A spokesperson said he didn’t immediately know and that the department’s lawyers were investigating.

Regardless of whether governors can reject them and despite backlash from Republicans who want to close U.S. borders to Syrians, the state department said it is sticking to its plan to take in 10,000 Syrian refugees by 2016 — more than 200 per day.

Additionally, President Barack Obama on Monday vowed to “intensify” the strategy to fight the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, but will not fundamentally change it.

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