Missouri’s Republican legislative leaders say responding to the coming to this state of refugees fleeing the Syrian Civil War should not be left solely to federal agencies.
That, says House Speaker Todd Richardson (R-Poplar Bluff), is why he and Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard (R-Joplin) have called the two chambers’ budget committees into a joint hearing November 30.
Missourinet will stream that hearing live at Missourinet.com.
“Obviously there’s a tremendous amount of concern from across the state – bipartisan concerns, concern that springs from a number of Missourians – about what the process is for vetting these refugees and concerns about making sure that we’re ensuring the safety of Missourians,” said Richardson.
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kurt Schaefer (R-Columbia) said it, “isn’t theoretical,” that terrorists have entered other countries by hiding among Syrian refugees.
“Most notably the recent attack in Paris, but also just this week five Syrians were stopped at the Texas border trying to come into the United States with false passports. Also that same day there were, in Honduras, Syrians with false passports trying to get on an airplane to the United States,” said Schaefer. “There has to be some process where we can insure that Missourians’ charity and compassion isn’t being used by terrorists to get people into the State of Missouri who want to do harm to Missourians.”
Richardson said by studying how refugee assistance programs are funded, the committees will begin the process of looking at how the state could respond.
“There’s a clear budget role that the state has in these resettlement programs,” said Richardson. “What we’ve asked the budget committee to do is get a real good handle on what the process is, what the flow of money is, and what role the state can play in trying to hit the pause button on this program until we have some confidence that more adequate security measures are in place.”
Schaefer says there has to be some level of state involvement in the relocation of refugees.
“The Refugee Act of 1980, which is what everyone cites to say, ‘Well, this is all a federal issue,’ it requires states to have a liaison to work with the federal government on the relocation of refugees, so clearly there’s someone in the governor’s administration who must be getting some communications,” said Schaefer.
Republican legislative leaders have accused Governor Jay Nixon (D) of failing to lead after he issued a statement Monday that said it is up to the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to screen refugees, and said they should use, “the strongest possible safeguards to protect our state and nation.”
Nixon on Friday told reporters in Kansas City there is a screening program in place.
“I think it’s important to note that 23,000 have applied and only about 2,100 have made it through that process,” said Nixon. “The vast majority of Syrian refugees that have come to America have been kids, have been moms, whose lives have been torn apart by their houses being bombed, their fathers being killed, and over the years we have been a very welcoming country to refugees.”
Schaefer said the state should not settle for the federal government handling screenings.
“Pretty much every time that we rely on the federal government for anything, something goes wrong, at a bare minimum,” said Schaefer.
Nixon said he doesn’t dismiss the concern about safety but, “we shouldn’t forget who we are as Americans during this important time, and as Americans we have always been a country of immigrants. We have always been a place that welcomed people who have had horrific things happen to them.”