TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork/CBS News/AP) — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said Monday night that he does not believe Syrian refugees are being vetted for security and thus, he would not allow them into his state.
Several U.S. governors threatened to halt effort to allow Syrian refugees into their states in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Paris, or signaled opposition to accepting refugees.
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.
Christie appeared by phone Monday evening on the Hugh Hewitt Show. The conservative political commentator asked Christie about the Syrian refugee crisis, prompting him to express doubts about the Obama administration.
“I do not trust this administration to effectively vet the people who are proposed to be coming in in order to protect the safety and security of the American people, so I would not permit them in,” Christie said.
Hewitt then asked, “What if they were orphans under the age of 5?”
“You know, Hugh, we can come up with 18 different scenarios. The fact is that we need appropriate vetting, and I don’t think orphans under 5 should be admitted into the United States at this point. You know, they have no family here. How are we going to care for these folks?” Christie said. “The fact is, you can come up with a number of different scenarios, Hugh, but in the end, I don’t trust this administration to effectively vet the people that they’re asking us to take in. We need to put the safety and security of the American people first.”
New Jersey residents seemed split on allowing in refugees.
“I’m really not looking for any of this terrorist activity coming to this state or in this country, particularly,” one man told 1010 WINS’ John Montone.
“I think that’s a little harsh,” said another. “America was built on accepting people from other countries.”
The governors of Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Texas, Iowa, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Massachusetts have gone further as to move formally to block refugees from relocating into their states – at least for now.
As CBS Chicago reported, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner moved to block new Syrian refugees from entering the state, saying, “We must find a way to balance our tradition as a state welcoming of refugees while ensuring the safety and security of our citizens.”
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker said he was “not interested in accepting refugees from Syria” due to concerns about security vetting, CBS Boston reported.
“I would need to know a lot more than I know now before I would agree to do anything,” he said.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott also said the decision not to accept refugees was a safety issue.
“As the FBI director himself made clear, as the United States federal government has made clear, they do not have the capability to distinguish between those refugees who can pose as terrorists and those who may be innocent,” he said.
In a letter to Obama, Abbott added that Texas would not participate in a program that will “result in Syrian refugees – any one of whom could be connected to terrorism – being resettled in Texas.”
The governors are responding to heightened concerns that terrorists might use the refugees as cover to sneak across borders, CBS News reported. One of the attackers in Paris had a Syrian passport, and the Paris prosecutors’ office says fingerprints from the attacker match those of someone who passed through Greece in October.
Seven of the eight terrorist suspects from the attack, however, were European and only one is thought to be from Syria.
But Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy told CBS affiliate WFSB-TV, Hartford that his state will continue granting asylum to Syrian refugees.
“If refugees – many who are children fleeing a horrific, war-torn country – seek and are granted asylum after a rigorous security process, we should and will welcome them in Connecticut,” Malloy communications director Devon Puglia said in a statement.
Puglia said Malloy is awaiting more guidance from the federal government, the Department of Homeland Security, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, WFSB reported.
“Women were raped. Children were damaged. People have lost limbs. We have an obligation as Americans to do our part in those situations, but do it at a very high standard with a very good background system, which I think the federal government has,” Malloy was quoted by WFSB.
New York state Gov. Andrew Cuomo has not responded to requests from CBS2 for comment on the subject.
Some Republican presidential candidates have also called for the United States to halt its Syrian refugee policy. Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush told “CBS This Morning” on Monday that the U.S. should focus on creating safe havens for Syrian refugees in the region rather than bringing them to the U.S., and that there is a “special important need” to help Syrian Christians.
“There should be really thorough screening [of refugees coming to the U.S.] and we should focus on creating safe havens for refugees in Syria rather than bringing them all the way across to the United States,” Bush said. “But I do think there is a special important need to make sure that Christians from Syria are being protected because they are being slaughtered in the country and but for us who? Who would take care of the number of Christians that right now are completely displaced?”
On Monday, President Obama sharply criticized Republicans for calling for a religious test for Syrian refugees.
“When I hear political leaders suggesting that there would be a religious test for which person is fleeing from a war-torn country is admitted, when some of those folks themselves come from families who benefitted from protection when they were fleeing political persecution, that’s shameful,” the president said. “That’s not American, that’s not who we are.”
Critics have noted that the U.S. Refugee Act of 1980 leaves state governors with little power over refugee admittance.