A string of United States governors have said they will refuse the resettlement of Syrian refugees in their home states in the wake of the deadly Paris attacks, prompting accusations of Islamophobia.
At least 26 state governors from the right-wing Republican party said on Sunday and Monday that they would refuse to accept Syrian refugees.
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The states include: Texas, Georgia, Ohio, Massachusetts, Alabama, Michigan, Louisiana, Indiana, Florida, Mississippi, Arizona, Illinois, North Carolina, Wisconsin and Arkansas.
Several governors cited reports that a Syrian passport was found near the body of one of the suspected attackers, who was killed during the incident.
While states do not have the authority to prevent the resettlement of refugees within their borders, governors can order their local refugee programmes not to cooperate with the federal government.
‘Fear and Islamophobia’
Nonetheless, the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), a civil rights group, says the governors’ announcements are indicative of growing Islamophobia among many in the US.
“We believe these governors are succumbing to fear and Islamophobia,” Ibrahim Hooper, national communications director of CAIR, told Al Jazeera.
“This is really a non-issue because refugees and immigrants are checked thoroughly by the authorities before entering the US.”
Although the US has only accepted about 1,500 Syrian refugees to date, the White House announced earlier this year that 10,000 more will be resettled in the country over a 12-month period.
Writing on Twitter, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson said he will “oppose Syrian refugees being relocated” in his state.
As Governor I will oppose Syrian refugees being relocated to Arkansas.
— Gov. Asa Hutchinson (@AsaHutchinson) November 16, 2015
In an open letter to US President Barack Obama, Texas Governor Greg Abbott said he has ordered the state refugee programme to not participate in the resettlement plan after learning that one of the Paris attackers was reportedly a Syrian refugee.
“Neither you nor any federal official can guarantee that Syrian refugees will not be part of any terroristic activity,” Abbott wrote.
Omar Hossino, communications officer of the Washington DC-based Syrian American Council, said it is unlikely that potential attackers could successfully pose as refugees to gain entry to the US.
“Syrians are the ones fleeing both ISIL and [Syrian President Bashar al-Assad] because they will be slaughtered if they don’t,” Hossino said.
The Syrian uprising broke out in March 2011 and quickly devolved into a full-on civil war that has cost the lives of more than 250,000 people, according to United Nations statistics.
More than half of Syria’s pre-war population of 22 million people have had to flee their homes. More than 4.2 million Syrians have left the country and become refugees, while some 7.6 million are internally displaced within the country’s borders.
Hossino said that “increased funding” for background checks is a more reasonable security measure than efforts to block all Syrian refugees.
“Syrians don’t want to be refugees. They want to stay in their homeland, but that can only happen if they have a safe place to live.”
Meanwhile, other Republican officials said that the US should only accept Christian refugees.
Florida governor and presidential candidate Jeb Bush said that the US should limit the resettlement of Syrian refugees to “the Christians that are being slaughtered”.
Echoing Bush, Texas Senator Ted Cruz said that there “is no meaningful risk of Christians committing acts of terror”.
On Monday, Republican legislators also said they would introduce legislation to block funding for Syrian refugee programmes.
Several Twitter users slammed the governors’ statements.
Journalist Deanna Othman criticised Republicans who called for resettlement only for Christian refugees.
"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
JK, not *those* tired, poor, huddled masses. #refugees
— Deanna ديانا (@deannaothman) November 16, 2015
Activist Imraan Siddiqi said that “humans are being used as political football”.
Human beings are being used as a political football. https://t.co/1mrrBylzzN
— Imraan Siddiqi (@imraansiddiqi) November 16, 2015
Rania Khalek, an independent investigative journalist, castigated the governors for “refugee-punching”.
Refugee-punching is very brave.
— Rania Khalek (@RaniaKhalek) November 16, 2015
According to CAIR’s Hooper, the Republicans’ anti-refugee measures are part of a long pattern of anti-Muslim discrimination by legislators.
The group says that more than a dozen candidates for the 2016 presidential elections have employed Islamophobic rhetoric during their campaigning.
In 2013 alone, the organisation documented 36 bills drafted to “vilify” Muslims introduced in 16 different states. All of them were introduced by Republicans.
Speaking of the Paris attacks, Hooper said: “Republicans are jumping on the Islamophobia bandwagon and exploiting these horrific attacks.”
Follow Patrick Strickland on Twitter: @P_Strickland_