Ohio joins growing list of states refusing Syrian refugees

Cranley also calls for moratorium

CINCINNATI – Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley joined Ohio Gov. John Kasich in calling for a halt to the resettlement of Syrian refugees amid heightened security concerns following Friday's terrorist attacks in Paris.

However, that seems unlikely to happen: President Barack Obama has defended the U.S. refugee program, saying candidates undergo thorough background checks before being granted refugee status. And experts point out that state and local officials lack any legal authority to block refugees. 

MORE: What experts say about refugee law

Michigan and Alabama were the first states in the country to refuse relocating Syrian refugees on Sunday. They were later joined by Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Indiana, Illinois, Massachusetts, Arizona, North Carolina and Mississippi.

On Monday, Cranley's office called for a moratorium until better background checks are put in place:

“The City of Cincinnati will not be involved in Syrian resettlement. This is a federal, not a local issue. However, the actions of the federal government affect the safety of Cincinnatians, which is my highest concern. I understand the dire circumstances Syrian refugees face because I personally visited a refugee camp in Jordan last summer. However, the federal government should halt its actions until the American people can be assured that exhaustive vetting has occurred.”

Cranley spokesman Kevin Osborne later sent out an amended statement:

"Syrian resettlement is a federal issue, not a local one. While the City of Cincinnati is not involved and has no jurisdiction on this issue, the actions of the federal government affect the safety of Cincinnatians, which is my highest concern. I understand the dire circumstances Syrian refugees face because I personally visited a refugee camp in Jordan last summer. However, in light of recent terrorist attacks in Paris, Beirut and Egypt, the federal government should halt its actions until the American people can be assured that exhaustive vetting has occurred."

Also Monday, Kasich’s office released this statement:

“The governor doesn’t believe the U.S. should accept additional Syrian refugees because security and safety issues cannot be adequately addressed. The governor is writing to the president to ask him to stop, and to ask him to stop resettling them in Ohio. We are also looking at what additional steps Ohio can take to stop resettlement of these refugees.”

More than 7 million Syrians have been displaced by war, and by the end of September, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees had referred 18,000 cases to the United States for resettlement. The U.S. in September pledged to take 15,000 Syrian refugees for the fiscal year that began in October; an estimated 85,000 total refugees are expected to be resettled in the U.S. in 2016, Secretary of State John Kerry said on Sept. 20.

Some have already arrived in the Tri-State: Catholic Charities of Southwestern Ohio said it welcomed a Syrian family last month.

"They were traumatized in Syria, fled violence, the children lost their grandmother in the war," Catholic Charities spokeswoman Kelly A. Anchrum said.

Catholic Charities CEO Ted Bergh issued a statement that said, in part:

"Our prayers are with all those affected by violence. Many of the refugees we resettle were victims of violence and are seeking safer lives here. 

"We cannot give in to terrorism by allowing the tragic situation in Paris to stifle humanitarian efforts for we’re in the midst of a humanitarian crisis which is taking a huge toll on children.  At no other time in our history have so many people been displaced by war, violence or religious persecution. More than half of those affected are children.

"Yet just a small fraction of the millions of refugees are granted the opportunity to start new lives in countries like America. Many of the children we resettle were born in refugee camps.

"Before admission to the United States, each refugee undergoes extensive interviewing, screening and security clearances at least three times by various government agencies."

Catholic Charities, Bergh said, expects most of the refugees it resettles this year will come from the Congo region in Africa and parts of Asia because of the tightened screening process for Syrian refugees.

Govs. Rick Snyder of Michigan, Robert Bentley of Alabama, Greg Abbott of Texas, and Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas said in separate statements Sunday and Monday that their states would not be relocating refugees from the war-torn country until the U.S. Department of Homeland Security fully reviewed its screening procedures.

"Michigan is a welcoming state and we are proud of our rich history of immigration," Snyder told ABC News. "But our first priority is protecting the safety of our residents."

Nearly 130 people died in the coordinated attacks in Paris, and at least one of the attackers was carrying a Syrian passport, which has led authorities to consider he could have entered Europe as a refugee. The suspected “mastermind” of the attacks, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, is believed to have slipped into Syria this year.

Several Republican candidates for president on Saturday accused President Barack Obama and his former secretary of state, Democratic Party front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton, of failing in the fight against Islamic State militants as the terrorist attacks in Paris became a focal point of the nomination race.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said the latest terrorist attacks serve as a cautious reminder why the U.S. border needs to be secured to keep out "radical, evil terrorists." Echoing Jindal was Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who said more scrutiny is needed of "refugees, visitors and students" entering the U.S. to determine whether anyone is here "to do us harm."

Obama said Monday the U.S. only accepts refugees after subjecting them to rigorous screening and security checks.

"They are the victims of terrorism themselves. That's what they're fleeing. Slamming the door in their faces would be a betrayal of our values," he said. "Our nations can welcome refugees who are desperately seeking safety and ensure our own security. We can and must do both."

Mayor Wants Cincinnati To Be Immigrant-Friendly

A few weeks ago, Cranley said he wanted to "make Cincinnati the most immigrant friendly city in the country" and laid out recommendations from his Task Force on Immigration.

Some of the goals are:

> Compile immigrant data to attract other immigrants to the city.

> Explore services for immigrant-owned businesses.

> Improve service gaps in housing, education, and transportation.

The plan will take about two years to complete, Cranley said.

ABC News and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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