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Advocate: States Can't Shut Doors On Refugees

Refugee advocates don't seem particularly concerned that governors will be able to make good on their calls to ban Syrian refugees from their states.

Mark Hetfield, president and CEO of HIAS, a major refugee resettlement organization, says, "A [U.S.] state cannot shut its doors to refugees, let alone refugees of a specific nationality. Good luck trying that."

If immigration observers believe states won't be able to shut their doors, they do nonetheless see a potential casualty of security concerns over refugees: the effort to reduce the long processing time for asylum applications.

"It's probably on hold," says Edward Alden, of the Council on Foreign Relations.

That's because the federal government is refocusing its attention on the rigorous vetting process for refugees. In a statement to NPR, an official at the the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) pointed out: "[R]efugees are subject to the highest level of security of any category of traveler to the United States." They are fingerprinted and interviewed; background checks are conducted by the State Department, DHS and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The State Department says the processing time takes from a year to 18 months on average. But the wait can be longer. And while Hetfield points out that thorough vetting does not necessarily mean a long wait time, there is little pressure to move the applications more quickly.

President Obama announced in September that the U.S. would accept 10,000 Syrian refugees within a year. And several Democratic governors — including Connecticut's Dannel Malloy, Pennsylvania's Tom Wolf and Vermont's Peter Shumlin — have said they will continue accepting refugees.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Alexandra Starr