Over half of US states block aid for Syrian refugee resettlement, Kansas among them

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback chats on the sideline of Kivisto Field during the fourth quarter of the Sunflower Showdown Nov. 28, 2015, in Memorial Stadium in Lawrence, Kansas. (Parker Robb | The Collegian)

On Nov. 16, Gov. Sam Brownback signed executive order No. 15-07 in response to the recent terrorist attacks in Paris. It reads, “no department, commission, board or agency of the government of the State of Kansas shall aid, cooperate with or assist in any way the relocation of refugees from Syria to the state of Kansas.”

With Brownback’s signature, Kansas joined 25 other U.S. states that are actively opposing refugee resettlement.

A statement from Brownback regarding the executive order posted on the Governor’s website said, “My first priority as Governor is the safety of all Kansans. We must take immediate action to ensure terrorists do not enter the nation or our state under the guise of refugee resettlement.”

According to Laura Meyers, K-State College Republicans president and junior in public relations, stereotypes and generalizations can be damaging to people’s rights.

“Personally, I think Kansans need to keep in mind that generalizing is always a threat to civil liberties,” Meyers said. “All Westboro Bapitist Church protestors are Christians, but not all Christians are Westboro Baptist Church members. Most terrorists are Muslim, but not all Muslims are terrorists.”

Kansas has several programs that offer resettlement aid to refugees through multiple state agencies, including the Department of Health and Environment and the Department of Children and Families.

Theresa Freed, director of communications for the Kansas Department of Children and Families, said she believes it is important to remember that the executive order only pertains to people looking for state assistance to directly relocate to Kansas. Once inside the U.S. borders, refugees are allowed free movement between states.

“We provide some welfare benefit assistance, employment assistance services and medical service assistance,” Freed said.

In the 2015 fiscal year, Freed said the department provided resettlement aid to eight Syrian refugees, including two families.

According to The Kansas Department of Health and Environment’s website, “The Kansas resettles approximately 350 refugees annually. The majority of refugees being resettled currently include people from three main groups. They are Iraqis, Bhutanese and Burmese.”

According to the U.S. Department of State’s website, refugees from Syria receive the most extensive security screening of any travelers to the U.S. and about 2,200 have been admitted into the country since October 2010. In addition to the regular refugee screening process, “Syrian refugees go through an additional layer of security screening tailored to the particular conditions of the Syrian crisis.”

A letter from Robert Carey, director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, recently warned state leaders that keeping aid from refugees because they were Syrian may violate both the Refugee Act of 1980 and The Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In his letter, Carey said, “states may not categorically deny ORR-funded benefits and services to Syrian refugees. Any state with such a policy would not be in compliance with the state plan requirements, applicable statutes, and their own assurances, and could be subject to enforcement action, including suspension or termination.”

Andrew Frey, freshman in computer engineering and president K-State’s non-partisan political advocacy group Young Americans for Liberty, said he believes that there isn’t much to be gained from telling state agencies not to help resettle Syrian refugees specifically.

“If you go from admitting refugees to admitting refugees except from country or background X, that is, by definition, a turning point and is a troubling sign,” Frey said.