State of Alabama files suit against federal government over Syrian refugees

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The following is a release from Governor Robert Bentley’s office:

MONTGOMERY—Governor Robert Bentley on Thursday announced the State of Alabama has filed a lawsuit against the federal government for non-compliance of the Refugee Act of 1980. This Act specifically requires the federal government to consult with the state regarding the placement of refugees before those refugees are placed within its borders. That consultation with Alabama has not occurred.

The lawsuit charges that the U.S government agencies named as defendants have failed to provide the State of Alabama with sufficient information about the refugees who have settled or will be settled in the state. The State of Alabama has been denied a meaningful role and input into the process of resettlement of those refugees.

On November 15, 2015, Governor Bentley announced the State of Alabama would not accept Syrian refugees through the federal government’s refugee resettlement program, citing security and safety concerns and glaring flaws in the refugee vetting process. Governor Bentley has since pressed the Obama Administration for information regarding the refugee resettlement program.

“On three separate occasions I have sent letters to the White House requesting information on the Refugee Reception Program in Alabama and these letters have gone unanswered,” Governor Robert Bentley said. “As Governor, the Alabama Constitution gives me the sovereign authority and solemn duty to protect the health, safety and welfare of all citizens of Alabama. The process and manner in which the Obama Administration and the federal government are executing the Refugee Reception Program is blatantly excluding the states.”       Letter 1 | Letter 2 | Letter 3

The failure to provide this information has inhibited Alabama from being able to adequately plan for the arrival of any refugees in regards to such matters as security, requests for social services and public assistance.   This action is in regard to consultation with respect to all refugees the federal government has settled or intends to settle in Alabama, not just those from Syria.

This lawsuit asks the court to award the following relief, but is not limited to the following:

  • A declaration that the defendants have breached their consultation duties and obligations to the State of Alabama under the Refugee Act of 1980.
  • A complete file on each of the refugees to include medical history.
  • Certification that the refugees pose no security risk.
  • A declaration that the defendants may not place refugees within the state unless they have fulfilled those duties and obligations to the State of Alabama.

“My number one concern is the safety for the people of Alabama and making sure an outdated, archaic and dangerous process that excludes the states is eliminated,” Governor Bentley said. “We simply cannot have a federal program that impacts states yet doesn’t allow states access to critical information. By filing suit, my goal is to reform the way the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the State Department handle the Refugee Resettlement Program” to ensure our State receives critical information.

Defendants named in the lawsuit include the U.S. State Department, The State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and HHS’s Office of Refugee Resettlement.

A copy of the complaint can be found here.