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December 1, 2015

UChicago law professors sign letter urging Governor Rauner to accept Syrian refugees

On November 19, 30 Chicago-based experts on immigration and refugee law issued a letter to Governor Bruce Rauner urging him to accept Syrian refugees. Among these experts were several University of Chicago professors.

A few days before the release of the letter, Rauner had announced that Illinois would stop accepting refugees from Syria due to concerns about the thoroughness of federal screening procedures. Rauner is one of many governors to have announced an end to resettlement of Syrian refugees, despite legal concerns about their ability to do so.

The letter describes the realities of the Syrian refugee crisis and the hardships the refugees face. It also addresses security concerns.

“Refugees are the most thoroughly vetted group of people who come to the United States,” the letter asserts. “Security screenings are rigorous and involve the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, the Department of Defense and multiple intelligence agencies.” The authors also call on Rauner “to demonstrate leadership by speaking out against the scapegoating of any group during this time of crisis and to ensure that our nation’s humanitarian efforts are robust.”

“Unlike most other resettlement nations, the U.S. does not select refugees for resettlement based on their educational or vocational backgrounds. Rather, our nation leads the world by resettling more refugees than any other nation and by offering a safe haven to the world's most vulnerable,” Jessica Darrow, a signee of the letter and director of special projects for the International Social Welfare Program at UChicago’s School of Social Service Administration, said in an e-mail. “If the United States Congress were to vote to curtail the refugee resettlement program, the U.S. role as a principled leader in this regard would come to an end.”

Apart from the consequences the refugee crisis raises in foreign policy, the battle over whether or not to accept refugees is also raising questions about the U.S. Constitution and the limits of state sovereignty.

“What the governors are saying is that they don’t want to take people…but governors don’t have a say to let in people into their states,” said signee Susan Gzesh, lecturer and executive director of the University of Chicago Pozen Family Center for Human Rights.

Under the Constitution, the federal government is entrusted with the authority to institute laws regarding naturalization and immigration. Despite this, Governor Rauner and nearly 30 other governors say they will stop accepting Syrian refugees.

“The money we provide for the resettlement of refugees is federal money, but it’s administered through the state government to social services agencies throughout the state…so [the state government] can make it unpleasant or uncomfortable for those agencies, and, of course, they can make it politically difficult. And even if they don’t have the power to do it they can persuade the federal government,” Gzesh said. “But I don’t know what their leverage is exactly.”

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