OLYMPIA – Washington will continue to accept refugees from Syria and other Middle East countries, Gov. Jay Inslee said Monday morning.
But Idaho Gov. Butch Otter said he will do everything he can to stop refugees from coming to his state until the federal government comes up with a better system to vet them.
Saying he believes the U.S. State Department has a “robust system” to evaluate refugees and decide where to place them, Inslee said Washington will not refuse placements.
“Washington will continue to be a state that welcomes those seeking refuge from persecution, regardless of where they come from or what religion they practice,” Inslee said in a prepared statement that mentioned Republican Gov. Dan Evans led efforts to welcome Southeast Asian refugees to the state in the 1970s.
Otter said he sent a letter to President Obama saying he understood refugee resettlement is primarily under the control of the federal governnment, but that Congress and the administration should work with the states and review the process.
In the meantime, Otter said he would “use any legal means available to me to protect the citizens I serve.”
In the wake of terrorist attacks attributed to ISIS in Paris, governors in Alabama, Arkinsas, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi and Texas, and the state Assembly of Wisconsin also announced plans to try blocking Syrian refugees from coming to their state. Legal experts questioned, however, whether they had any authority to override the federal government on this issue.
Inslee was among governors taking a different stance and saying Washington would accept Syrian refugees if the federal government decides to send them to the state.
“I stand firmly with President Obama who said this morning ‘We do not close our hearts to these victims of such violence and somehow start equating the issue of refugees with the issue of terrorism,’” he said.
Since 1975, Washington has received more than 130,000 refugees from more than 70 countries, Sarah Peterson, the state refugee coordinator, said. That included 2,921 in 2015, mostly from Iraq, Ukraine, Somalia, the Congo and Myanmar; 25 of them were from Syria. No estimates for the number of Syrian refugees that could be coming to Washington have been announced, she added.
Idaho, too, has a long history of welcoming refugees. Jan Reeves, director of the Idaho Office for Refugees, told Idaho Reports the state has resettled 35 refugees in the last six months, 20 of them children.