Trump's Order Will Give States More Power Over Refugees' Resettlement

January 30, 2017 AT 1:00 PM

States and cities will find it easier to turn away even those refugees the Trump administration admits to the U.S. under the executive order issued Friday.

The order evolved from a proposal that candidate Donald Trump described as a "total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States" — though President Trump says of the final version, "This is not a Muslim ban." It suspends for 90 days admission of individuals from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen, and requires tighter admission standards thereafter. The order prompted widespread disruptions, detentions and angry protests at U.S. airports through the weekend — and also deportations, until a federal judge in Brooklyn halted these Saturday night.

But a less-discussed provision in the order goes further, calling for the secretary of Homeland Security to "devise a proposal" to give state and local governments "greater involvement in the process of determining the placement or resettlement of refugees in their jurisdictions."

Pro-refugee organizations worry that the provision will create a patchwork of refugee policies across the country and further politicize an already-controversial process.

“It just doesn’t make sense that the federal government would give a foreign-policy decision like that to the states and localities,” said Domenic Powell, an advocacy and policy strategist with the American Civil Liberties Union.

Powell said state and local leaders may cave to political pressure driven by fear of terrorism and “make decisions about refugees based on prejudice.”

In late 2015, 31 Republican governors said they would not allow Syrian refugees into their states, and then-Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana moved to block the expenditure of federal funds to resettle Syrian refugees there. But a federal district court barred Pence from doing so, and in October the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that decision, saying Pence's actions constituted discrimination on the basis of national origin.

Three months later, Trump is exploring alternative ways to give states the leverage that Pence, now vice president, was previously denied. The decision-making power remains in the hands of the federal government, but the executive order opens the door for governors to turn refugees away.

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