Quantcast
Home » News
Home » News

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert says state will still accept Syrian refugees; 27 peers say no

Published November 17, 2015 8:28 am

Refugees in Utah • Herbert breaks ranks with many Republican governors, says Utah will accept refugees from Syria.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Utah isn't joining the growing list of Republican-led states that want to reject Syrian refugees after last week's terrorist attacks in Paris.

Gov. Gary Herbert's spokesman, Jon Cox, issued a statement Monday, saying: "Utahns are well known for our compassion for those who are fleeing the violence in their homeland, and we will work to do all we can to ease their suffering without compromising public safety."

So far, governors in 27 states have cited security concerns as the reason they will try to block those refugees.



It's unclear that a governor has any say on where refugees are resettled.

Herbert, chairman of the National Governors Association, has asked the Utah Department of Public Safety to review security checks used by the federal refugee-resettlement program and wants to consult with the state's congressional delegation.

Cox left open the possibility that Herbert could change his mind after such a review.

"The highest duty of a governor," Cox said, "is to protect public safety."

The move by mostly GOP governors to reject Syrian refugees is one President Barack Obama spoke against during a news conference in Turkey, where he attended the Group of 20 summit.

The Democratic president said it was important that "we do not close our hearts to these victims of such violence and somehow start equating the issue of refugees with the issue of terrorism."

He also rejected the idea of screening refugees based on their religion, as proposed by some GOP presidential candidates, saying that is "not American."

Since the Syrian civil war began five years ago, Utah has resettled 12 Syrians, from two families, the most recent of whom arrived eight months ago. The state expects to receive a few hundred more between March and October.

That group would be part of Obama's plan to boost the total number of refugees accepted in the next year from 70,000 to 85,000. He said at least 10,000 of them would be Syrians.

In recent months, hundreds of thousands of Syrians have flooded Europe, where the security checks have been limited to a review of international arrest warrants.

Authorities in Paris found a Syrian passport near one of the eight attackers, who killed nearly 130 people in four coordinated attacks Friday. That passport was scanned in Greece, Serbia and Croatia in October, according to The Associated Press. It is unclear whether it is a real passport or whether it belongs to the suicide bomber. The militant Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for the attacks.

A bloc of Republican governors in the United States says the connection is reason enough to deny Syrian refugees access. So far, the chief executives in Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin say they do not want to admit any more Syrians, according to a tally kept by CNN. New Hampshire is the only state on that list led by a Democrat.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott sent a letter to Obama expressing doubt that the federal government can perform the necessary security checks.

"Neither you nor any federal official can guarantee that Syrian refugees will not be part of any terroristic activity," Abbott said. "As such, opening our door to them irresponsibly exposes our fellow Americans to unacceptable peril."

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder explained his decision to postpone accepting refugees by saying his "first priority is protecting the safety of our residents."

The State Department oversees the nation's refugee program, under which applicants go through a security check, biometric screening, a medical test and a series of interviews in a process that takes roughly a year to complete.

FBI Director James Comey expressed confidence in the system, but he also told the House Judiciary Committee in October that there are challenges.

"If the person has never crossed our radar screen, there won't be anything to query against," he said. "So we do see a risk there."

Long before the Paris attacks, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, criticized Obama's plan to increase the number of refugees from Syria, warning that terrorists can "game the system."

"Where they come from and what sort of vetting we can do should be a contributing factor," he said in an interview Monday. "What I don't like is the White House trying to sell America that they have been vetted and thoroughly interviewed. That is just not true."

He said such interviews often last just minutes.

Chaffetz, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, argues the United States should still accept refugees but make the process more difficult. He also welcomed governors expressing their take on the Syrian refugee crisis, though he didn't want to second guess any state executive, including Herbert.

"Some will come to different conclusions," he said, "but their participation is warranted, it's needed and it has a great effect in their state."

Jonathan Johnson, chairman of Overstock.com and a Republican challenger to Herbert, disagreed with the governor's stance.

"We don't want ISIS terrorists coming here under the guise of refugee status. Utah should immediately suspend the acceptance of Syrian refugees until we are sure the screening process works," he said in a prepared statement.

"Utahns are extremely compassionate and generous people, but the governor needs to ensure refugees coming to Utah are not a danger to Utahns."

Utah Auditor John Dougall, a Republican, weighed in on Facebook, expressing his opposition to those who want to shut down refugees from that war-ravaged area.

"To say that we won't take in any refugees from Syria (or pick another country) is misguided," he wrote. "There are ways to balance security with compassion. We are a large, intelligent and generous country. We can figure out a better solution than 'keep them all out!' "

Two resettlement agencies —┬áthe International Rescue Committee and Catholic Community Services — operate in the state, helping refugees transition to life in the United States. These groups have called for the nation to accept 100,000 Syrians in the next year, saying a bigger effort is needed to respond to the humanitarian crisis.

Top Mormon leaders also have encouraged their church's members to "participate in local refugee projects, where practical." The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, based in Salt Lake City, declined to comment any further.

mcanham@sltrib.com

 

 

 

 

 

USER COMMENTS
Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
comments powered by Disqus