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Connecticut Will Take Syrian Refugees as Planned; Many Other States Say They Won't

Nov 17, 2015

An agency in Connecticut that resettles refugees said the governors' concerns are unwarranted.

More than two dozen U.S. governors are publicly opposing the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the wake of attacks in Paris last week.

But in Connecticut, Governor Dannel Malloy said the state will continue to welcome refugees who undergo a rigorous security screening. 

In September, President Barack Obama said the U.S. will accept 10,000 refugees within a year from Syria. The Paris attacks are causing concern about whether those refugees might have ill intent.

Governors in 24 states, mainly Republicans, have said they oppose refugee resettlement. Others said they plan to put resettlement efforts on hold. Congressional Republicans, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, are also calling for an end or limit to refugee influx from Syria, tying it to a December 11 deadline to pass a package of spending bills or risk a partial government shutdown.

One of the agencies in Connecticut that resettles refugees said the many other governors' concerns are unwarranted. Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services, or IRIS, in New Haven has been resettling refugees in the state for 33 years. 

Chris George, IRIS's director, explained what it means to be a refugee. "They are people who have been forced to flee their home country because of persecution. And it's persecution that really makes the difference between refugee and any other immigrant -- persecuted, or a well-founded fear of persecution because of their race, their religion, their nationality, their social group, or even their political opinion," he said.

Chris George during a visit to WNPR.
Credit Chion Wolf / WNPR
"No time in my tenure resettling refugees has a governor ever said we don't want a certain nationality. It's almost un-American."
Chris George

George said the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees first gives an individual refugee status before turning over a fraction of these cases to governments like the U.S. From there, the U.S. State Department vets the refugees. If they clear the hurdle, refugees are then turned over to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for more rigorous screening.

George said it can take a refugee anywhere from two to four years before he or she is allowed to come into an American community. He said that in all his years of resettlement work, he's never seen states become so vocal against a particular group of refugees.

"This is unprecedented," George said. "No time in my tenure resettling refugees has a governor ever said we don't want a certain nationality. It's almost un-American."

On Monday, a Malloy spokesman said the administration has questions about the screening measures that will be used by the Department of Homeland Security. He said Malloy is waiting for guidance on what those measures will be from federal agencies.

As a federal matter, it’s not clear that governors have any authority when it comes to immigration. A State Department spokesman told NPR this week, “I think our lawyer is looking into that.”

Processing time for potential refugees takes an average of 12 to 18 months, according to the State Department.

George said there are about 40 Syrian refugees and their families living in Connecticut. IRIS has helped to resettle six of these families in the Greater New Haven area.

Speaker Ryan said the House will vote this week on whether the U.S. should pause its resettlement program for Syrians.

This report includes information from The Associated Press.