Alabama Sues Feds for Lack of Communication About Refugees

by | January 8, 2016

By Kelsey Davis

Gov. Robert Bentley on Thursday announced the state of Alabama is suing the federal government for non-compliance of the Refugee Act of 1980, which requires federal government to consult with state government before placing refugees in the state.

Bentley said this consultation never occurred, which according to his release, means the federal government, "failed to provide the State of Alabama with sufficient information about the refugees who have settled or will be settled in the state."

In the release, Bentley said the state can't adequately plan for the arrival of refugees "in regards to security, requests for social services and public assistance" because he hasn't been provided information.

He requested in the suit that a federal judge compel the federal government to consult with the state on this issue.

Bentley announced on Nov.15 that he would not allow Syrian refugees to enter the state through the federal government's refugee resettlement program, citing concerns over the refugee vetting process.

"On three separate occasions I have sent letters to the White House requesting information on the Refugee Reception Program in Alabama and these letters have gone unanswered," Bentley said in the press release. "The process and manner in which the Obama Administration and the federal government are executing the Refugee Reception Program is blatantly excluding the states."

A significant portion of the complaint addressed Bentley's concerns about allowing Syrian refugees into the state who may be providing support to terrorists, or are terrorists themselves.

"Refugees who provided material support to terrorists could be eligible for admission under a waiver granted by the federal government if, among other things, the support was 'insignificant' and the refugee 'poses no danger to the safety and security of the United States,'" the complaint read.

However, a footnote in the suit ensured this legal action regards consultation with the federal government about all refugees it has already settled or intends to settle in Alabama, not just those from Syria.

During a press conference on Thursday, Bentley said if the federal government met the criteria requested by the state, then he wouldn't be opposed to allowing Syrian refugees to settle in Alabama. He said his goal in filing suit is to "reform the way the U.S. Department of Health and Human services and the State Department handle the refugee resettlement program, and to ensure our state receives critical information."

Because he hasn't received this critical information, Bentley said he doesn't know how many refugees have currently settled in the state.

According to a State Department report,16 refugees from Burma, Congo, Ethiopia, Iraq and Somalia were settled in Alabama between October and December.

But Bentley said he had no knowledge of this report.

"I'm not aware of how many are here," Bentley said. "We have been given no reports."

Bentley also said the state asks for a complete file on each of the refugees, including their medical history.

"(Refugees) could be bringing in a severe communicable disease and we need to know that. We require that when people go to school, so why not require that when people come into our state?" Bentley asked.

On Monday, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal rescinded his executive order which aimed to block the entrance of Syrian refugees into the state after the state's attorney general ruled that the governor lacked authority to issue such an order.

However, Bentley said he had no knowledge of Deal's order.

"I'm not familiar with (Deal's) executive order," Bentley said. "My job is to protect the people of Alabama. His job is to protect the people of Georgia. I'm doing my job."

Kristi Graunke, senior supervising attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center's Immigrant Justice Project, said in an emailed statement that the law suit lacks legal merit, and that the state of Alabama has no authority under the Constitution to block the settlement of refugees.

"Gov. Bentley's grandstanding is fueling xenophobia and helping to create an environment ripe for hate and violence," Graunke wrote.

On Wednesday, a Department of Defense spokesman confirmed that the Department of Health and Human Services planned to visit Gunter Annex as part of a nationwide assessment of Department of Defense facilities that might accommodate undocumented immigrant children.

The federal government is also examining the possibility of housing the children at Maxwell Air Force Base, though that is still in the preliminary phases.

The Department of Health and Human Services was named as a defendant in the suit, as was Secretary of State John Kerry, the U.S. State Department, The State Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM) and HHS's Office of Refugee Resettlement.

(c)2016 the Montgomery Advertiser (Montgomery, Ala.)