Governor Phil Bryant’s statement on Monday regarding Syrian refugees has captured national, state and local attention.
“I will do everything humanly possible to stop any plans from the Obama administration to put Syrian refugees in Mississippi,” Bryant said.
In September, The White House press secretary announced the plans of the Obama administration to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees into the United States within the next year. In light of the most recent terror strikes in Europe, several governors across the country have taken a stand on this issue, stating they will not accept Syrian refugees into their state. Bryant is one of 31 governors who have spoken out against the Obama administration’s decision.
Thomas Rosser, an Oxford attorney practicing immigration law, said Bryant and the other 30 governors have taken the easy way out of a complex issue.
“The number proposed by President Obama is proportionately about one-20th of the number that our allies in Europe and elsewhere have already agreed to shelter,” Rosser said . “The number is inadequate in light of our own national responsibilities for having sown the seeds of destabilization in the Middle East.”
According to the New York Times, 1,854 Syrian refugees have been admitted into the United States since 2012. In addition, only two percent of the 70,000 refugees admitted within the last fiscal year were from Syria.
The civil war in Syria has created over 4 million international refugees, according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
The threat of national security has been much debated since governors began publicly refusing Syrian refugees. However, according to Rosser, the vetting process for refugees is extensive.
“Our country already has one of the most complicated, time-consuming and thorough vetting processes for admitting refugees of any nation on earth and few ever pass that gauntlet,” Rosser said.
Andrew Soper, senior public policy leadership major and Associate Student Body senator, stands with the governor’s response.
“I trust Governor Bryant’s judgement,” Soper said. “He has the best interest of the people of Mississippi at heart and I am confident he is making the right decision for Mississippi.”
Political science professor Conor Dowling said many people are concerned about national security and fear there is no accurate way to determine which refugees should be allowed into the country.
“There’s no way the government can be 100 percent certain that every person let into the country would not have ties to a terrorist group,” Dowling said. “It’s the fear of the unknown that is leading to a more isolationist viewpoint of people in Mississippi, but also the nation as well.”
Dowling said the goal of these governors’ statements is to reassure residents their state will be protected.
“With incidents like what happened in Paris, Beirut and Kenya there’s a natural tendency for people to be concerned that something like that can happen again on their own soil,” Dowling said. “It’s just a natural reaction.”
Even though over half of the country’s governors have declared their position on this issue, it is still a federal matter, and individual states cannot refuse the admission of refugees, Rosser said.
“Legally, it becomes a battleground between those who believe states’ rights should prevail over federal law and policies, and the final outcome may very well lead to another determination made by the U.S. Supreme Court,” Rosser said.
States’ refusal to cooperate in this matter will not necessarily prohibit the entrance of refugees. However, it will elongate the process.
“In most cases related to the infringement of the exclusive federal authority over immigration matters, such state efforts are usually struck down after tedious and time-consuming litigation,” Rosser said.
Public policy leadership professor Eric Weber said governors have little to no control over the entrance of refugees into the country.
“Calling the federal government to screen people carefully might make sense if we did not already do that, but we do,” Weber said. “Once refugees enter the U.S., given that our state borders are open, I do not see on what grounds the Governor could keep refugees out.”
The United States Refugee Act of 1980 authorizes refugees to be placed anywhere within the United States.
William Schenck, associate director of the Croft Institute, said the ultimate end to the argument would be to end the civil war in Syria. However, the current issue at hand is to decide how the United States wants to relate to the rest of the world.
“People who come through this refugee system are not only vetted more so than any other individual who comes into the country, but they’re also monitored once they’re here,” Schenck said. “Being welcoming and open to people who really are the direct victims of what seems to be one of the most barbaric regimes in our world is a good thing.”
This national issue has sparked a debate on campus. Senior international studies major Erica McGraw has been vocal about this issue through social media.
“The words of Gov. Bryant are un-American,” McGraw said. “I understand the risks associated with doing the right thing and, like the governor, I have worries too, but we cannot let our fear overshadow our compassion.”