Georgia attorney general says state cannot bar Syrian refugees

Reuters News
Posted: Dec 30, 2015 4:41 PM

By Colleen Jenkins

(Reuters) - Georgia, whose governor has vowed to block entry to Syrian refugees, cannot deny them resettlement within the state or federally funded benefits such as food stamps, the state's attorney general said in an official opinion on Wednesday.

Republican Governor Nathan Deal said he was concerned about the safety of residents in his state and would not accept any Syrian refugees until the federal government overhauled its screening procedures.

Deal was among more than two dozen U.S. governors who vowed to keep refugees from the war-torn country out of their states after the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris, for which the Islamic State militant group claimed credit.

State Attorney General Samuel Olens, a Republican, said he understood the concerns that prompted the governor's executive order, which he reviewed at Deal's request.

But he said federal law required Georgia to provide federally funded benefits to Syrian refugees lawfully admitted to the United States.

"I am unaware of any law or agreement that would permit a state to carve out refugees from particular countries from participation in the refugee resettlement program, no matter how well-intended or justified the desire to carve out such refugees might be," Olens wrote.

A spokeswoman for Deal said he was reviewing the opinion.

The Obama administration is standing by its plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees in the coming year, despite criticism from Republican leaders who call it too risky.

Earlier this month, a federal judge dismissed a request by Texas seeking a restraining order to block the imminent entry of nine Syrian refugees into that state. The judge said the state had failed to show "that any terrorists actually have infiltrated the refugee program, much less that these particular refugees are terrorists intent on causing harm."

(Reporting by Colleen Jenkins in Winston-Salem, N.C.; Editing by Peter Cooney)