Gov. Bryant says he wants no Syrian refugees in Mississippi
JACKSON, MS (AP) - Mississippi's Phil Bryant is joining several other governors in saying they want to block the federal government from putting any Syrian refugees in their states.
However, Lavinia Limon, president and CEO of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigration, said states don't have any legal authority to block refugees from being resettled in their communities.
U.S. refugee programs are governed by the Refugee Act of 1980 that created a refugee coordinator for the country and outlined procedures for resettlement within the United States.
A spokesman for President Barack Obama said Sunday that the administration is moving forward with its plan to thoroughly vet and admit as many as 10,000 Syrian refugees to the U.S.
Bryant, a Republican, said Monday that he is working with the Mississippi Department of Public Safety and the state Office of Homeland Security to determine whether there are plans to put any of them in the state. A U.S. State Department website shows no refugees arrived in Mississippi in October.
"I will do everything humanly possible to stop any plans from the Obama administration to put Syrian refugees in Mississippi," Bryant said in a statement. "The policy of bringing these individuals into the country is not only misguided, it is extremely dangerous. I'll be notifying President Obama of my decision today to resist this potential action."
The Islamic State group claimed it carried out the fatal attacks Friday in Paris.
Since then, governors of other states - including Alabama, Louisiana, Michigan and Texas- have also said they don't want Syrian refugees in their states.
U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi is the top Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee. He said Monday that refugees must go through a "multi-layered" vetting process that takes 18 to 24 months.
"While concern about the risks associated with unknown persons in refugee populations is understandable, particularly in the wake of last week's heinous attacks in Paris, we must not lose sight of the fact that three quarters of the refugee population are women and children and the U.S. government will be highly selective about which applicants it approves," Thompson said. "Providing safe harbor to individuals who no longer have a home because of war and violence is the humane - and American - thing to do."
Bryant arrived back in Mississippi on Sunday after spending a week leading a state economic development trip to Israel. He spoke at a defense conference in Tel Aviv about Mississippi's role in researching and building unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones. He said a tour guide from an Israeli security office took him to Israel's border with Syria on Saturday.
"Believe me, this is a very dangerous situation that we have in the Middle East," Bryant said after a state budget meeting Monday. "The Israeli leadership understands it. I talked to Prime Minister (Benjamin) Netanyahu. They understand the seriousness of the situation in the Middle East. ... It does not appear that our administration does."
Two Mississippi citizens were arrested in August and accused of trying to join Islamic State. Jaelyn Delshaun Young of Vicksburg and Muhammad Dakhlalla of Starkville have pleaded not guilty to federal charges of aiding terrorists, and they are scheduled for trial in January.
Young, 20, and Dakhlalla, 22, were arrested Aug. 8 before boarding a flight with tickets for Istanbul. Authorities say the couple contacted undercover federal agents in May, seeking online help in traveling to Syria.
Associated Press Writer Alicia A. Caldwell in Washington contributed to this report.