Republicans from the U.S. House speaker to Upper Midwest state lawmakers want the United States to delay admitting Syrian refugees until the country’s terrorist screening program can be reviewed.
While it is unclear whether more-than-two-dozen governors who want to pause the refugee flow have any power to do so, U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., is looking at legislation to stop the 10,000 refugees Democratic President Barack Obama wants the country to accept.
In the Upper Midwest, Democratic Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton is the only state executive to say he is satisfied that the Obama administration’s plan would separate terrorists from refugees.
On Tuesday, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad and North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple joined fellow Republican Govs. Scott Walker of Wisconsin who already said they oppose accepting refugees now.
Dennis Daugaard of South Dakota said Syrian refugees are unlikely to come there and called refugee resettlement a federal issue.
The concern is that a terrorist can hide among refugees, like is suspected in at least one case in Friday’s Paris attacks.
Dalrymple’s office issued a news release Tuesday saying Dalrymple would send Obama a letter outlining his position.
The North Dakota governor’s letter, like others already headed to the White House, cites testimony by the FBI Director James Comey, who told Congress of inadequacies in the system that would prevent the thorough vetting of the 10,000 refugees the administration has pledged to admit into the U.S.
Dalrymple joined other governors Tuesday on a call with senior administration officials from the White House, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, the U.S. Department of State and the National Counterterrorism Center to express his concerns with the administration’s plan to resettle Syrian refugees.
“For generations, our country has welcomed individuals and families seeking safety and asylum within the borders of the United States,” Dalrymple said. “However, I am deeply concerned about the recent terrorist attacks carried out in France and the potential for this situation to arise in the U.S., especially given the testimony by FBI Director James Comey revealing gaps in the refugee screening system.”
Syrians have not been a part of North Dakota’s refugee resettlement program in the past.
On Monday, Branstad told Iowa reporters that governors have no say in the refugee issue, but Tuesday he ordered all state agencies to stop work on Syrian refugee resettlements immediately.
Dayton said Republican governors opposing refugees is “showmanship” by governors “who have no expertise in the area.”
“I want to protect the people of Minnesota every bit that the governors of those states want to protect the people of their state,” Dayton said.
“There are people with children in their arms who are fleeing terrorists…” Dayton said. “They are not a threat to anyone.”
Minnesota officials know of seven Syrian refugees who have moved to the state, although people can move in and out without telling anyone.
Minnesota House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, on Monday asked for confirmation that federal authorities have a workable plan in place to screen terrorists out of refugees. Dayton said he understands that and his aides have contacted the federal government to get that assurance.
In Washington, meanwhile, Republican House leaders are drawing up plans to suspend Obama’s efforts to allow 10,000 Syrian refugees into the country.
Ryan, less than three weeks in office as leader of the House Republicans, said he set up a task force to consider legislation “as quickly as possible” that would pause Obama’s Syrian refugee plan.
“The prudent, the responsible thing is to take a pause in this particular aspect of this refugee program in order to verify that terrorists are not trying to infiltrate the refugee population,” Ryan told reporters on Capitol Hill.
Several Republicans said they wanted a vote as soon as this week on legislation to halt Obama’s plan.
The Senate, where Republicans hold a smaller majority than in the House, would also have to approve any legislation on the refugees before it could take effect. Rhetoric there has been less heated than in the House.
“All of us are God’s children … so I disagree with that assumption that only Christian children should be able to come to the United States,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said.
Reuters news service contributed to this story.