More than a dozen Republican governors are moving to block Syrian refugees from entering their states after Friday’s terrorist attacks in Paris that killed at least 130 people and wounded hundreds more.Yes, there are a lot of red states on that list. But there are also a lot of states that are generally counted as unswervingly Democratic in presidential elections (Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin), plus a couple that are regarded as tossups but were won by Barack Obama twice (Florida, New Hampshire). I know the president won't be on the ballot in 2016, but his first secretary of state probably will be.
What started as a trickle of opposition turned into a deluge by late Monday as GOP governors from Texas, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina, Arizona, Maine, Massachusetts, Wisconsin, Indiana, Mississippi, Illinois, Ohio, Louisiana, Arkansas -- and Democratic Govs. Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire and Steve Bullock of Montana -- joined Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder in refusing to accept refugees from Syria.
Oh, and you have Republicans in Congress threatening to block funding for the refugee program, you have Rand Paul introducing a bill to halt the issuance of visas for refugees from Syria and up to thirty other countries, you have Chris Christie arguing for the rejection even of Syrian refugees who are "three-year-old orphans," you have Jeb Bush saying any refugee program should focus on Christians, and you have Mike Huckabee keeping it classy, in a conversation with Bret Baier of Fox News:
I think when you see the left-wing, socialist president of France -- a very politically correct country -- saying, 'It's time to close our borders,' and he does so immediately, I think it might be a clue to America that this idea of wholesale having people from the Middle East come and we have no idea who they are, when in fact one of the Paris attackers was one of those refugees, then, Bret, it's time to wake up and smell the falafel.But wait -- we're assured by Ian Millhiser of Think Progress that the governors, at least, can't refuse Syrian refugees:
The problem for [the] governors opposed to admitting refugees, however, is that there is no lawful means that permits a state government to dictate immigration policy to the president in this way. As the Supreme Court explained in Hines v. Davidowitz, “the supremacy of the national power in the general field of foreign affairs, including power over immigration, naturalization and deportation, is made clear by the Constitution.” States do not get to overrule the federal government on matters such as this one.Yes, but we were also assured by Millhiser a year ago that the president's executive order allowing millions of undocumented immigrants to remain in the U.S. was also 100% legal, as determined by ... Arizona v. United States. Shortly afterward, a federal judge issued an injunction blocking the executive order, and just last week the injunction was upheld by the 5th Circuit. There are always judges on the federal bench who'll rule against this president, no matter what liberal legal observers think.
Just in case there is any doubt, President Obama has explicit statutory authorization to accept foreign refugees into the United States. Under the Refugee Act of 1980, the president may admit refugees who face “persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion” into the United States, and the president’s power to do so is particularly robust if they determine that an “unforeseen emergency refugee situation” such as the Syrian refugee crisis exists.
This power to admit refugees fits within the scheme “broad discretion exercised by immigration officials” that the Supreme Court recognized in its most recent major immigration case, Arizona v. United States.
And if this can't be legally blocked by governors, the courts, or a Republican Congress, I'm predicting raw George Wallace-style resistance by the governments of the Southern states especially -- or, perhaps, confrontations involving angry True Patriots with AR-15s. As I've said before, I lived through busing in Boston. I know how ugly this sort of thing can get if at least some of the people holding government power reject the rule of law.
We've been through this sort of thing before in the Obama years. The president wanted to close Guantanamo, send some of the detainees to stateside penal facilities, and conduct trials in New York City. The backlash was fierce, and no one had his back -- and please recall that this was in 2009 and early 2010, when his party had large majorities in Congress. (The mayor of New York, Mike Bloomberg, who'd endorsed Obama in 2008, ultimately stabbed him in the back on this.)
When Obama's opponents have an ideal opportunity to prey on voters' fears, they'll do it, relentlessly. So this is going to be a losing battle for the White House.
And let me also point out that a law invoked by Ian Millhiser, the Refugee Act of 1980, has some provisions that Republicans are sure to take advantage of :
It appears to me that the invocation of this law triggers an automatic public congressional hearing. Are you ready for that? How demagogic will that be?